As evidenced by his work with SNL and sketch group Good Neighbor, Kyle Mooney has been building a career out of playing a similar type of character over and over again, but I think he does it with enough genuine empathy and admiration that I can’t complain. Mooney excels at cringe comedy, and he does this especially well in Brigsby Bear (dir. Dave McCary), in which he portrays a young man who essentially has never seen or heard of anything.
James (Mooney) after being rescued from the kidnappers he thought were his parents, now must navigate the world as an alien who had spent his entire life indoors. Brigsby Bear, the bizarre television show he has dedicated his life to, turns out to be the creation of his kidnapper father (Mark Hamill), who built the show solely for James to watch. Realizing that nobody else has seen the show, James sets out to finish the Brigsby Bear franchise to share it with the world.
Something that really makes this film work as well as it does is its originality- not just in its bizarre premise but in its lack of clichés. In the hands of a less intelligent creative team, there probably would have been a dimensionless antagonist. But, for the most part, everyone who James encounters genuinely wants to help him- and it isn’t purely out of pity. James makes friends-real friends. And he doesn’t make these friends by trying to conform; he does it by unapologetically being himself from the get-go, and they embrace it, because they enjoy his company and appreciate what makes him unique. He doesn’t understand social nuances, and he seems particularly out of place when he tries to mimic the way young people speak, (he describes anything ‘good’ as “dope as shit”), but at no point do they tease or ostracize him. These kids don’t “learn to love him”; they just do.
Someone might draw similarities between James and a person on the autism spectrum and write a think-piece about whether this is positive representation or problematic stereotyping. In an attempt to remain in my own lane, that someone will not be me. But there is something to be said about a film that doesn’t make a possibly coded autistic character the butt of the joke or try to change him.
Brigsby Bear and James’ obsession with the show is a tribute to nerd culture, but what makes this particular example unique is the fact that “Brigsby Bear” began as a tool of oppression. It kept James in captivity by brainwashing him with repeated mantras, such as “creativity is an unnatural emotion.” But because the show was such a meaningful part of James’ life, he chooses not to let it go but rather take it over as his own work, ironically using it as a creative outlet. He doesn’t let something that made him so happy for years become a source of trauma, and that’s just inspirational. Brigsby Bear is a genuinely funny dark comedy, but also the most surprisingly heartwarming and uplifting film of the year thus far.