Spoilers might get mad if you poke them with sticks.
I find it’s best to wait to be in a particular mood before watching some movies. I don’t know if I’d been as receptive to this one if I had started it out of the blue, or at a different time of day. As luck would have it, I found this a very enjoyable film from a writer’s perspective. Perhaps it’s meant to elicit artistic vibes as an acting concept, but for me it worked more as lesson in script writing. Either way, this is a very meta film feature that might be enjoyable for a niche audience. Casual viewing might cause confusion. Expect the unexpected.
Black Bear (2020) was written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine. An actress and director (Aubrey Plaza) is writing a draft for a possible next film at a secluded cabin. We are then introduced to her as she arrives to said cabin as Allison. Living in the cabin is expecting couple Blair (Sarah Gadon) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott). What follows is a growing tension between all three personalities as Blair and Gabe seem to be easily triggered to be at each other’s throats. Allison’s presence seems to exacerbate things, as her dry sense of humour and sarcastic wit clashes with Blair. Not to mention that Gabe can’t help but stare when Allison goes to the lake for a swim.
I think for casual audiences this might be an unnecessary test of patience. I’m not trying to sound pretentious, I’m often a casual viewer myself. This particular one peaked my interest as an indie vehicle for Plaza to test out her acting prowess – and she does. I’ve described only half of the movie. The second half, which in my opinion is more compelling, retells the story or basically rewrites the plot with Allison as the wife but with the entire story becoming a movie set. Allison is in the role of the wife, Blair is in the role of the guest and Gabe is actually the director. Mike (Alexander Koch) acts as the husband and Gabe look-alike.
You can come up with your own interpretation. I see both parts as writing drafts of the same film, with the second half being the movie-within-a-movie. The exercise always ends with a bear as part of the conclusion for the premise. In my opinion – and just in case you’ve never realized it, everything I write here is my opinion – the “bear” is that volatile situation that all three characters should see coming a mile away and instead of avoiding it they run up to it. The result is that it always blows up in their faces. Much praise for a film that several people could watch and come to a completely different interpretation. If the idea is not to your liking, chances are you might consider skipping this one.
Sometimes characters are poorly developed and the plot is what drives the story. In those kinds of pictures, regardless how incredible the story is, it’s hard to pay attention if we don’t feel a connection with the characters. In this film, it’s the opposite. The plot is transparent from a mile away. It’s the characters that are built with enough agency and depth to make them engaging. Allison from the first draft is interesting as an aloof, sometimes insolent, personality. What if we inverted her role with Blair, who seems neurotic and easily angered? If you were on Allison’s side for the first draft, would you switch to her side in the second draft where she is the woman scorned? I found myself doing exactly that.
Strongly recommended for audiences willing to absorb some concept storytelling. It’s very possible that the real intention of the film went over my head, or simply you’ll find a better interpretation than mine. Either way, I found the performance of Aubrey Plaza is worth watching the entire feature. You’ll also enjoy it more with an open mind if you don’t mind the middle of the road retconning. I did find it has a lot of entertainment value for movie enthusiasts and writers in general, familiar with recycling concepts and characters to produce something more intriguing. Casual moviegoers should abstain. For anybody into filmmaking, writing, acting or anything related to storytelling it’s a highly enjoyable swim.
That will do for now.