James is the world’s #1 fan of the children’s TV show “Brigsby Bear Adventures.”
There is no #2.
In the dark but sweet comedy “Brigsby Bear,” James (Kyle Mooney, who co-wrote the film) is a twentysomething guy who has dutifully watched every one of the seemingly hundreds of episodes of the series. The VHS tapes line every shelf of his bedroom, he sleeps on “Brigsby Bear” bedsheets, and goes online to espouse increasingly convoluted theories about the Brigsby-verse.
As the first few minutes of “Brigsby” go on, it’s clear that James’ strange life extends beyond his obsession with a TV show. He never leaves his house; when his father (Mark Hamill) offers to take him for a look outside, the view through the “window” is an obvious diorama, complete with a cheap animatronic fox. His parents indulge his obsession with the TV show beyond what seems normal, and shake hands formally with him at mealtimes and bedtimes.
To reveal much more about “Brigsby,” directed by Monroe grad Dave McCary, would be to spoil it. Part of the fun and the strangeness of the film is how it locks us into James’ limited perspective – as he discovers the secrets and boundaries of his strange world, so do we.
What I can say is that James responds to some massive reveals about his life by trying to make his own “Brigsby” episode, and the film ends up being an oddball ode on friendship and the healing effects of making art with others. (Even if that art happens to involve wearing a giant bear head and blowing stuff up in the desert.) In a way, it’s a very fitting message from McCary and Mooney, lifelong friends who made YouTube videos together as the comedy group Good Neighbor before being hired together on “Saturday Night Live.”
On “SNL,” Mooney excels at playing funny but oddly poignant characters whose eggshell-thin external confidence covers deep insecurities. He carries that even further here with a beautifully underplayed performance, playing James as basically a grown 10-year-old boy trying to pretend that everything is normal and he’s not freaking out inside. It’s hilarious but also very moving.
Some of Mooney and McCary’s filmed pieces for “SNL” have been frighteningly accurate recreations of old pop culture, be it a ‘90s TGIF sitcom or a bad “Big Brother”-like reality show. In recreating the footage of the “Brigsby Bear” show, they’re in their gloriously cruddy element, delighting in the cheap special effects and awkward line readings. When one actress on the show says she’s was told that the show was meant for “Canadian public access,” you think, “Yeah, that looks about right.”
But if the satire of bad children’s TV is exquisitely sharp, “Brigsby Bear” is a much sweeter and sunnier film than one might see coming. And if it inspires a new generation of friends to start making their own videos and movies together, so much the better.