Kyle Mooney in Brigsby Bear (Sony Pictures Classics)

 Part of having an all-out obsession with one esoteric piece of pop culture is to deal with isolation. Not that many people around you are going to have the same deep-seated love for what you value. If others don’t understand the thing you geek-out over, then essentially they don’t get you. Brigsby Bear, written by Saturday Night Live cast member Kyle Mooney and his lifelong friend Kevin Costello, posits the question: What if you were literally the only person in the world who knew about a television show? How far would you go to make people appreciate it?

James (Kyle Mooney) is a 26-year-old man living with his parents. His entire room is decorated with merchandise from the kids TV show “Brigsby Bear”—his sheets, his posters, all his books, and even every shirt he owns has the bear cub Brigsby on it. During meals with his parents, the conversation revolves around the latest episode of the series and James’s fanboy theories about the show’s multilayered storylines.

It’s a difficult film to explain, and most synopses leave something vital out: a major twist that occurs within the first 15 minutes. Without divulging what that is exactly, I will say that James is separated from his parents. One of the consequences of the disconnection is his discovering that “Brigsby Bear” isn’t a known commodity. In fact, his father had spent the past 25 years making all of the “Brigsby Bear” shows, and James was its only viewer.

We now live in a post-Napoleonic world. By that, I mean post-Napoleon Dynamite. We’ve come a long way since Jared Hess’s 2004 film about a high school outsider. Thirteen years later, nerds are in. While Napoleon Dynamite was a smash hit that brought oddballs into the focus, it still regarded them as weirdos. Now the new wave of nerd film is upon us, these aren’t specimens to laugh at anymore. They are real people with fully realized hopes and dreams.

Brigsby Bear takes us to the next level. When James is taken out of his isolated environment and introduced to society, he lacks social graces and the sense of irony. He asks if he can learn how to “pilot a car;” types “thank you” at the end of his Google searches; and after hearing a teenager say it once, he uses the phrase “dope as shit” to describe everything he thinks is cool. A dyed-in-the-novelty-shirt geek, James doesn’t just try to fit in. Instead, his goal is to reveal “Brigsby Bear” to the world so others can experience the joy he derives from the bear.

James finds others to aid him on his quest. This begins with Spence (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), a novice filmmaker. James tells Spence about the show, and immediately Spence is onboard. Then the two set off to recast and make their own Brigsby film.

Mooney plays James without an ounce of cynicism. The innocent man-boy is singularly focused on his passion, which in a way makes him the most adult character in the film. There are other spirited performances, such as Ryan Simpkins as Audrey, the teenage sister James never knew he had, who is naturally resistant to this strange man now in her life (and hanging out with her friends). Mark Hamill steps into a non-Star Wars role as James’s dad, who lends his voice for the role of Brigsby Bear.

But for my money, the real standout is Greg Kinnear, as FBI detective Vogel, a man who misses his high school theater days. James convinces him to appear in his project, and it’s a  delight that not only is Detective Vogel invested in James and Spence’s no-budget opus, but Kinnear himself really gets into donning the fake beard and wizard cloak and dialing up the camp—you would easily watch the movie these guys are making.

The movie was produced by the production company Lonely Island, which has had a few missteps with Popstar and those loathsome HBO one-offs 7 Days in Hell and Tour de Pharmacy. It doesn’t hurt that this is also brought to you by producers Phil Lloyd and Chris Miller, who were responsible for the 21 Jump Street films and The Lego Movie. Brigsby Bear similarly takes the entire zeitgeist of ’80s toys and television and uses them deftly to contemplate how a generation still clings to childhood. Mooney and company’s message seems to be, why are we so cynical when there is so much about the world that is dope as shit?

Directed by Dave McCary
Written by Kyle Mooney and Kevin Costello
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
USA. 100 min. Rated PG-13
With Mark Hamill, Claire Danes, Kyle Mooney, Greg Kinnear, Andy Samberg, Matt Walsh, Michaela Watkins, Ryan Simpkins, and Jorge Lendeborg Jr.