Most people know Kyle Mooney from his role on Saturday Night Live, but the roots of his new film Brigsby Bear go back to 2007 and Good Neighbor, the sketch comedy group that he founded with SNL co-star Beck Bennett (who also shows up in the film), Nick Rutherford and Dave McCrary, who directed the feature. Brigsby Bear is, in a way, the culmination of a decade’s worth of collaboration.
“The initial seed of the idea, which is basically just the notion of a kid who loves a TV show that’s made just for him, that’s probably been in my head for seven or eight years. I don’t even know!”
Mooney stars as James, a young man who has spent his entire life living in seclusion in an underground bunker where, unbeknownst to him, he has been raised by his kidnappers (Mark Hamill and Jane Adams). James’s only link to the outside world is Brigsby Bear, a low-rent though high-concept public access sci-fi show starring a humanoid bear. When James is finally “freed” from his captors and returned to his birth parents (Matt Walsh and Michaela Watkins), he learns that no one knows about Brigsby Bear — Brigsby Bear was a show made entirely for him. Though he has difficulty contending with the outside world, James soon finds that the outside world does make it easy for him to make his own Brigsby Bear movie and put a bow on the bizarre, forever-unspooling narrative that defined his life.
Kyle Mooney and Mark Hamill in Brigsby Bear
Though the film certainly has some parallels in the film world (Be Kind Rewind springs to mind), Brigsby Bear is somewhat unusual in that it doesn’t make James’s innocence the butt of the joke. It’s not really a fish-out-of-water tale, and the film’s conflict doesn’t stem from the fact that no one can quite figure out what to make of this unusual manchild.
“Our director Dave had kind of brought up that there wasn’t really a true bad guy in the movie,” says Mooney. “One thing that my co-writer and I always talked about was this notion that if I were to meet a person like James — if Kyle Mooney were to — and I heard the story of what happened to him and that there was a TV show that existed and was made just for him and had these dark connotations… not only would I want to be his friend or get to know him and have a conversation about his experience, I also feel like I’d want to see that TV show! I love outsider art and people who do things in their bedrooms, whether it’s recording an album or making a movie. Whatever it is. So we kind of always operated from the notion that it would be fascinating if it happened in real life.”
One of the most interesting things about the film is how seemingly deep the Brigsby Bear mythology runs. According to Mooney, though, most of it is on screen. “Kevin Costello, my co-writer, was really good about keeping a bible for the show within the movie,” he explains. “He’s probably even more knowledgeable than I am on the characters and universes. The stuff you see in the movie from the show is pretty much most, if not all, of what we got because we only had two days on that soundstage. We had a limited budget so we couldn’t shoot as much of that stuff as we would’ve liked to, but we’re actually in the process now of making an episode that’s independent from the movie. But I loved working within that world and I especially love the idea that the show has been in existence for something like 20 years when we first catch up with it. It probably started very rudimentary and childish and got more elaborate over time.
“And I think that Mark Hamill’s character, Ted, who created the show, is arguably as involved in it as James is,” Mooney continues. “He’s obviously getting a kick out of producing this show and creating the characters and the stories.” ■
Brigsby Bear opens in theatres on Friday, Sept. 1.