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Even if you haven’t heard Kyle Mooney’s name, you’ve likely seen him in character on Saturday Night Live. Brigsby Bear is Mooney’s first leading role and he treats it with heart, rarely bordering the line of offensive. He plays James, an awkward 25 year old who lives with his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) in a underground bunker. He’s enthralled with Brigsby Bear, a show about a lifesize bear saving the world while teaching life lessons. From the look of his room, it’s his whole life and doesn’t really know much else.
His world comes crashing down when the FBI raid his home. It turns out that his parents are not really his parents; they kidnapped him when he was a baby and have been on the run ever since. When James is reunited with his real family, he has to adjust to a new life but still wants to keep the only thing close to his heart: Brigsby. James looks forward to getting a new episode every week in the mail. Unfortunately, there will be no more Brigsby; it turns out that his “dad” created and filmed the show on a nearby soundstage (with amazing voice work done by Hamill). With the help of his high school-aged sister and her friends, he seeks out to create a Brigsby movie to finish up the series once and for all.
When I first saw the synopsis and image for Brigsby Bear, I thought this was going to be a pretentious, existential trip. Thankfully, I was wrong and it turned out to be a charming story. Mooney puts on an extraordinary performance as James. He may be awkward and repeats phrases like a child (he loves to end everything with “dope as shit), but he shows that this man is dealing with trauma. Brigsby is not only an obsession but also a coping mechanism for everything that he’s been through. Mooney puts on a very layered performance, and while his lines are funny, you can also hear a hint of sadness.
The film runs a little bit long, making some of the humor slightly tiresome. Writers Kevin Costello and Mooney relied on one gag to last an hour and 40 minutes but didn’t have any other material to back it up. Some of the better scenes feature the tension between him and his family, but the forced humor doesn’t make it as impactful. It doesn’t ruin the film as a whole, but it does cause some eye rolls every now and again.
Overall, Brigsby Bear is a smart and lovable film that deals with trauma in an endearing way. Costello and Mooney show that art is definitely subjective to the individual; it can be bad to someone and it can be life-saving to another.