Black Bear Review
There are films that can be easily described and summarised. They follow established rules and stories and are easy to watch and digest. Then there are films like Black Bear that simply cannot be categorised or explained thoroughly enough to communicate just how peculiar, offbeat and immersive they are, but let’s try anyway.
Allison (Aubrey Plaza), is a filmmaker looking for inspiration ho arrives at a rural retreat, owned by Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon). Her arrival immediately drives a wedge between Gabe and the pregnant Blair and a rather boozy night comes to a shocking end. This is part one, subtitled “The Bear in The Road”. To spoil what part two, “The Bear By The Boat House” entails, would be to lessen Black Bear’s impact. Part of the fun is to be completely blindsided, and honestly, quite confused, trying to figure out what is happening and more importantly, what it all means.
Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, this is scorching, smart and likely to leave you with some sort of cinematic whiplash. It immediately draws you in with its visuals, but the real winner here is the script and the trio of performances from Plaza, Abbott and Gadon. Black Bear is simultaneously a look at the creative process as well as a takedown of toxic masculinity. There are several moments in the film where you might want to jump up and scream at the characters for their actions and opinions, but that’s exactly what makes it so powerful. It’s incredibly aware of its controversies and what light it shows them in, opening them up for discussion.
The film is at times perhaps a little too smart for its own good, bringing up a lot of questions without ever intending to answer them. Levine seems to act as an agent of chaos, throwing the audiences in the middle of a very intense, unique dynamic that exists between the characters. At times, Black Bear feels unfortunately aimless and pointless, as if Levine is just flexing his cinematic and narrative muscles but without any greater purpose. It can make for an uncomfortable and frustrating watch, but thankfully the outstanding cast keep things accessible.
Plaza, Abbott and Gadon are all spectacular. They carry the narrative when the script occasionally doesn’t have anything to say. Abbott is remarkably gifted at playing a douche bag and still making him feel human enough not to render him the villain of the story. Gabe feels like a very modern take on masculinity with his controversial, yet mundane opinions of feminism and his occasional caveman-like tendencies, but there are no good or bad guys here. There is open hostility between Blair and Gabe and Gadon, while occasionally making Blair a tad insufferable, she holds her own wonderfully against Abbott.
However, Plaza is the real star here, her performance feeling nuanced, tragic and hilarious and definitely among one of her best to date. Allison as a character is a tough nut to crack and often morally dubious and unlikeable, but Plaza taps into her character's insecurities and through her signature dead-pan forwardness, makes Allison a compelling protagonist.
Black Bear is a challenging film, one that will require several viewings to at least attempt to unlock all its secrets, and even then, it’s likely that some aspects will remain a mystery. Perhaps that’s part of its charm, and it’s certainly an interesting look at the lengths artists can go to unlock their creative impulses in the name of art.
Black Bear is available in select cinemas and VOD in the US from December 4.