Turning a story about youth kidnapping with a subtext of abuse into meaningful entertainment is a massive challenge, but hardly impossible. Long ago, Stanley Kubrick mixed the droll with the dark in “Lolita,” transforming the cross-country travels of Humbert Humbert and his nubile stepdaughter into parodic emotional slapstick. Presently on Netflix, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” makes its sparkly heroine, after being held for years underground, a batty, resilient fish out of water enjoying her newfound freedom. Each finds ways to make its eccentric characters magnetic in their engaging oddity.
That doesn’t happen here. Mooney fixes a permanent grin on James, an effect that seems more cloying than appealing. We never learn who James really is. What does he believe in? What does he stand for? Appearing in his homemade videos in a Brigsby costume that looks like Pooh Bear conjoined with Teddy Ruxpin, he’s happy, and he makes others happy, too. But his childish impulses don’t have a moral application. You could say he’s taking a stand for art in an imperfect world, but in a scenario this unclear you could say anything.
Starring Kyle Mooney, Claire Danes and Mark Hamill. Directed by Dave McCary.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexuality, drugs and teen partying. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 37 minutes.
Bottom line: A coming-of-age story that's sentimental to a fault