By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Dave McCary and Kyle Mooney, two creative minds from TV’s Saturday Night Live, with co-writer Kevin Costello have come up with this heartfelt, endearing and entertaining movie which examines fandom and the creative juices fandom often fuels. In addition to writing, Mooney also stars as the main character of this highly imaginative and slightly bizarre movie that puts a wonderfully positive spin on the story’s extraordinary premise. Because the movie’s story is a bit odd, some audiences may not initially flock to this adorable and unconventional movie. I feel it is destined, though, to become a cult classic once more people come around.
Mooney stars as James Pope, a young man living in a most peculiar and somewhat disturbing situation. As a child, James was kidnapped by Ted (Mark Hamill) and April Mitchum (Jane Adams). Under the Mitchums’ care, James gets raised underground and is misled by his new parents that the outside world isn’t safe for human life. His education and entertainment are provided by a fake television show which is actually produced by Ted and April. James spends most of his life watching the show called Brigsby Bear, a sort of Sid and Marty Krofft-meets-Teddy Ruxpin program which teaches James multiple life lessons as he matures into adulthood. Even as a young adult, James remains a Brigsby Bear superfan. When police finally catch up with the Mitchums and return James to his real parents, the revelation proves to be overwhelming for the disoriented young man. As he gets to know his real family and their friends, James begins describing his favorite television program and gains the interest of others. This inspires James to produce his own version and bring it to the masses in the real world.
Mooney, Costello and McCary have succeeded in making Brigsby Bear an absolute triumph. The movie never makes fun of superfans in any mean spirited ways, nor does it mock the creative endeavors inspired by their fandom. Some of the material can be interpreted as dark and creepy, but Mooney and his team never take the story to any genuinely nasty or truly distasteful territory. The filmmakers’ hearts are definitely in the right places and their sincerity makes everything work so well.
Mooney’s exudes much sincerity and channels his inner child in his portrayal of James Pope. He delivers a highly lovable performance that is both charming and poignant. The incomparable Mark Hamill gets to flex his acting chops and voice-over talents as James’s captor, foster father, and the producer and star of Brigsby Bear. It is wonderful to see the actor in a role that allows him to use so many of his gifts. The movie also has great performances from the supporting cast. Greg Kinnear stars as police Detective Vogel, the officer in charge of James’s abduction case. Matt Walsh and Micaela Watkins portray James’s real parents Greg and Louise Pope. Ryan Simpkins plays James’s sister Aubrey and Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. plays her friend Spencer, a talented amateur filmmaker interested in helping James with his Brigsby Bear project.
With their first feature film, Dave McCary, Kyle Mooney, and Kevin Costello prove themselves as talented writers and filmmakers worthy of more feature projects. I fear that the quirkiness and subversive nature of the film will keep the masses away, though. I must strongly encourage my readers to take a leap of faith and give this lovable movie a chance. My wish is for this movie to achieve enough success that will allow Mooney and company to keep making more strange and imaginative films on their own terms.