Brigsby Bear, B
Rated PG-13, 100 minutes
From time to time a film so unconventional comes along that it grabs your heart, which describes the new dramedy "Brigsby Bear," written by and starring "Saturday Night Live" star Kyle Mooney. Weird, wonderful and heartfelt, it's occasionally redundant and too long for what it is, but you'll still leave with a big smile on your face.
The show "Brigsby Bear Adventures" is a children's television program produced for an audience of one: James Pope (Mooney), who has been held captive since he was a baby with pseudo parents (Jane Adams and "Star Wars'" Mark Hamill). When the series abruptly ends as James awkwardly returns to his family (Michaela Watkins and Matt Walsh), Pope's life changes forever as he sets out to finish the storyline himself, with the help of some new friends. To do that, he must learn how to cope with the realities of a new world that he knows nothing about.
"Brigsby Bear" is directed by "Saturday Night Live" segment director Dave McCary, who's a member of Good Neighbor, the comedy troupe that features Mooney and his "SNL" co-star Beck Bennett (who appears here in a small part); with the story and script from Mooney and Kevin Costello, it's one of the most original, offbeat yet touching films to be seen in some time. Admittedly, the film has its strange moments, but there are some equally hilarious ones too as Mooney's James must adjust to his new life; in a weird way, it's part coming-of-age and part fish-out-of-water, with the latter more effective than the former.
Mooney and the eclectic cast generally make it work, and it stumbles a little, especially in the overlong second act, taking too long to find a resolution, but once it does you may need some tissues. Along the way, there's James' parents, comedians Watkins and Walsh (Emmy-nominated this year for the TV show "Veep"), who have trouble connecting with their long-lost son; there's his stern therapist, played by Emmy-winner Claire Danes, a kind cop (Oscar-nominee Greg Kinnear), a new friend (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), who helps him with his movie, an odd friend he makes in a psych unit (Andy Samberg, stealing scenes as usual) and in a unique bit of casting, his pseudo father, played by Luke Sykwalker himself, Mark Hamill (who's very good by the way).
As James tries to assemble his "Brigsby Bear" movie, along the way he learns about love, how to drive a car, the internet and how to use a cell phone. He says "thank you" unnecessarily and makes most things plural when he shouldn't, but he's learning and adjusting to a new way life, and once he figures it out, you'll be cheering him on. Mooney, in one of the year's most memorable breakout turns, engages as the young guy who connects with people through a pretend bear, and the film succeeds largely due to his sincere, sensitive performance.
Aided by Mooney's original script and breakout turn, the offbeat and winning "Brigsby Bear" is unusual for sure, but in a good way. As James himself would say, "good job, good job."