A return to normality — whatever that is — takes a turn into moviemaking weirdness in “Brigsby Bear,” a merrily awkward comedy from some of the minds at “Saturday Night Live.”
James (Kyle Mooney, who co-wrote with Kevin Costello), at 25, spends most of his time watching his favorite TV show, “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” and recapping the episodes online. He watches the show on VHS, which he receives in a weekly drop, due to the fact that he lives in a bunker with his parents (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) waiting for the Earth’s surface to become habitable once again.
Then the FBI shows up, and James learns the truth of what’s going on — a mix of “The Truman Show” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” He also learns nobody else has ever heard of “Brigsby Bear Adventures,” because the show was made especially for him.
While trying to settle in with his real parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins) and sister Aubrey (Ryan Simpkins), James also stays in contact with the cop who investigated his case (Greg Kinnear) and the counselor (Claire Danes) helping his transition to normal life.
James, confused by this “normal” life, wants to go back to the one thing that helps him makes sense of things: Brigsby Bear. With the help of Aubrey and her high-school friends, he aims to make a movie that completes the Brigsby saga once and for all.
Director Dave McCary, an “SNL” writer and segment director, zeroes in on the happily offbeat wavelength of Mooney and Costello’s script, which may be the most bizarrely funny thing to come out of the Sundance Film Festival since “Napoleon Dynamite.” The script also has a sweet core, as other characters gradually join in on James’ odd dream and help him balance between nostalgia and his own creativity.
Filming in Utah turned out to be a sharp move, since the state provides both the otherworldly landscapes of Brigsby’s universe and the pleasant cookie-cutter suburbia of James’ new life. (If you were on social media last summer and wondering, “What’s that guy from ‘Saturday Night Live’ doing at Pie-n-Beer Day at the Beer Bar?”, now you know.)
The movie boasts a smart, funny ensemble cast — with Kinnear, Simpkins, Hamill, Kate Lyn Sheil and Andy Samberg as standouts. But the heart of “Brigsby Bear” is Mooney, who approaches every scene with a wide-eyed enthusiasm that makes James’ crazy journey make perfect sense.
* * * 1/2
A sweet comedy about a young man who finds his world disrupted, so he holds on to the childhood character who helped him make sense of it all.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Friday, Aug. 18.
Rating • PG-13 for thematic elements, brief sexuality, drug use and teen partying.
Running time • 100 minutes.