Quirk works in the new comedy Brigsby Bear.
Dave McCary’s film centers on James (SNL’s Kyle Mooney), a 20something who, unbeknownst to him, was stolen as a baby by April (Jane Adams) and Ted Mitchum (Mark Hamill), raised in their bizarre biodome-ish home under the guise of necessary safety from nuclear fallout and fed episode after episode of the titular television show.
A wonder to behold, the program is essentially an exponentially more sophisticated Barney with special effects reminiscent of the trailers of coming attractions in Grindhouse and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete films, brilliantly blurred by the fuzziness of VHS tape technology.
Freed from his “prison” by the authorities, James is reunited with his birth parents, Louise (Michaela Watkins, The House) and Greg Pope (Matt Walsh, Veep) who together process the truth of his past with help from therapist Emily (Claire Danes).
Throughout this transition and until the credits roll, Brigsby Bear never overplays its Stranger in a Strange Land premise, holding true to a grounded wackiness despite many opportunities to stray from that path, especially considering James’ understandably lingering obsession with his favorite show.
In their first time working with a large canvas, Mooney and co-screenwriter Kevin Costello are naturals at spinning a 90-plus minute yarn while fellow SNL vet McCary similarly proves no amateur behind the camera in his feature directorial debut. Perhaps its the trio’s novice status in those situations that allows so much giddy creativity and heart to shine through while also remaining refreshingly non mean-spirited.
Though the prospect of Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins, also from The House) taking her newfound brother to a stereotypical high school party sounds like a disaster waiting to happen and some teens are better than others at respecting James’ situation, very little bile is spewed in his direction beyond a few short-lived wisecracks.
Dispelling further hate is that James almost immediately finds a similar soul in party host Spencer (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), a popular, well-respected kid whose passion for filmmaking aligns perfectly with James’, uh, interest. As the two young men bond while plotting their own Brigsby feature, the cast and crew revel in the nerdy joys of making movies, a passion that easily translates to viewers attuned to this particular idiosyncratic wavelength.
Mooney and Lendeborg make for a marvelous team, but applause also goes to Greg Kinnear, terrific as the detective in charge of James’ case whose deferred artistic dreams are reborn with help from the innocent, sheltered youth, and Andy Samberg as new friend who assists James in adjusting to new, intimidating surroundings.
Brigsby Bear would probably be fine without recognizable faces in those two roles, but considering the film’s far-flung successes, it’s no wonder these fairly big names gel with their relative newcomer costars without stealing the spotlight from those at the story’s forefront.
Grade: A-minus. Rated PG-13. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)