Colin Jost and Staten Island Summer

Weekend Update co-anchor Colin Jost was the first member of the current cast to put forth a passion project film in 2015. Staten Island Summer is perhaps the weirdest of the bunch, and not because the movie itself is odd or unexpected. Its existence is just downright puzzling.

Jost’s screenplay is semi-autobiographical. Both Jost and the main character Danny Campbell (Graham Phillips) are Staten Island kids who eventually went to Harvard. In Staten Island Summer, Danny is trying to throw one last blow-out with his lifeguard pals before he heads off to college. He’s also pursuing his former babysitter (Ashley Greene) while his friend Frank (Zach Pearlman) goes after twin sisters.

If this sounds a lot like Superbad, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and every other teen sex comedy, that’s because it is. Staten Island Summer has no distinct voice and does nothing new with a well-tread genre, so it’s curious why Jost was so determined to get this story out there. (A row of topless babes in a pool? How novel!) He wastes a bunch of his SNL friends in thankless roles, and forgets to give his avatar even a whisper of a personality. Staten Island Summer got the mixed reviews to match and failed to gain much notice as a digital exclusive.

This lack of distinction is a criticism that’s followed Jost in his SNL career. He’s fequently been called boring, wooden, or a lesser version of former Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers. (Decider dubbed him “Meyers without the gravitas or perspective.”) Most fans are still lukewarm on his desk tenure with Michael Che, which has yet to mark itself the way Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon, or Seth Meyers and Amy Poehler did. Given this precarious position, it’s hard to imagine Jost attempting another film anytime soon.

Aidy Bryant and Darby Forever

Cast member Aidy Bryant was the next to follow with a 2016 short film Darby Forever. Bryant co-wrote and starred in the 20-minute Vimeo exclusive. It follows a bored shopgirl (Bryant) who spices up her humdrum existence in a fabric store with wild daydreams about the customers. In one fantasy sequence, she’s the leader of a badass girl group that’s all about “black boots, cigarettes, lipstick, and fishnets.” In another, she’s the absurdly perfect mother to perfect daughter Gardenia Rose. Darby’s dreams are bright, vivid, and fun. They occasionally skew awkward, but rarely bizarre. Bryant revels in delightful whimsy, which should already be apparent to anyone who follows her Instagram.

Darby Forever had limited reach as a digital exclusive, but it did net positive notices in Entertainment Weekly, Bust, and this site. It also fit perfectly with Bryant’s established personality. On Saturday Night Live, her characters tend to be either like Darby or dream Darby. She often plays children, but is just as comfortable taking on a brassy broad like Tonkerbell. The only major unifying quality to her humor is that it’s rarely mean-spirited. By that token, Darby Forever could easily become her pitch for a charming feature-length romantic comedy. With any luck, her co-writer (and SNL colleague) Chris Kelly would join her.

Brigsby Bear

Kyle Mooney and Brigsby Bear

Mooney’s Brigsby Bear is offbeat, to say the least. The titular “show” within the film involves a sci-fi Teddy Ruxpin with equally strong long division and rapping skills, and that doesn’t even get into why it exists. Without giving too much away, there’s a massive family trauma at the center of the film, and Mooney employs his muted humor as a coping mechanism.

It works. The resulting movie is imaginative and poignant, an outstanding display of Mooney’s gifts as a writer. It’s also a logical leap for an SNL player known just as much for his strangeness as he is for his sweetness. People who have only seen “Cool” or his saga with Miley Cyrus might write Mooney off as a weirdo – and he is. A stone-cold one, in fact. But he can also deliver in skits like “Christmas at Nana’s,” a cute holiday classic that’ll make you hug your annoying brother. Mooney is the rare performer who can walk the fine line between odd and alienating, never losing sight of humanity even in his most experimental work.

Mooney received glowing reviews for Brigsby Bear. While he may want to stick around SNL for a bit longer, it’s easy to imagine a future career for him as an indie comedy writer, possibly even director. It might look like Samberg’s. It could also resemble NPR favorite Mike Birbiglia’s. But either way, it’s sure to be fascinating.

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