Black Bear: The BRWC Review. By Alif Majeed.
Black Bear is a very tricky movie to write a review because discussing the film would open it to spoilers. But the catch here is spoilers are inevitable while discussing a movie like this one. If you have to talk about it in a nutshell, the movie is about the creative process, what the director has discussed in various interviews. I think that would be the best way to describe it.
Instead of talking about what the movie is about, it would be better to talk about how it begins, with Aubrey Plaza’s character sitting in a cabin house’s dock overlooking a lake. It is a scene that continues to recur through the movie, and the way it does further adds to the mystical element.
We then have Allison (Aubrey Plaza), who comes to stay in a creative retreat run by Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon). She is a writer (and is implied to have been a failed actress) who plans to use her quiet time at the retreat to write her next feature. There is clear and immediate friction between Gabe and Allison, with the former being the more attractive person. Still, she recognizes a significant part of Allison’s charm is because she is a much more interesting person among the two.
The casting is uniformly excellent as the three actors toys with the perception the audience has about them. For example, Aubrey Plaza seems to be cast as Allison in a role that she can almost sleepwalk in. A woman with a sassy tongue who likes to stir the pot which is a role she has done countless times. Only this time, the director uses our perception of her to deliver a truly eye-opening performance.
If you watch some of her interviews, you often have other people getting interviewed strangely trying to impress her or even try to sound or say something funny even if she doesn’t put any pressure on them to do so. That works to her advantage when Gadon and Abbott’s characters, especially in the first half, try to impress her and then tearing into each other without even realizing it.
It is amusing when Plaza’s character actively provoking them to see their reactions, gleefully imagining it as fodder or inspiration for her writing. It comes to a head when the character’s arc shifts in the later portions of the movie where Plaza stuns and surprise when her character takes a heartbreaking dramatic turn. You can’t take your eyes off her and stay transfixed at her as the other characters do in the later portions of the movie.
Even though Plaza steals the show here, Gadon and Abbott also deserve praise here for their layered performances that may not be as showy as Plaza’s, but the subtle changes they bring to their characters throughout the movie literally pushes Plaza to deliver a performance she would be remembered for.
Lawrence Michael Levine, the director who also wrote the movie, is definitely someone we should eagerly await to see what he cooks up next, given his short and admittedly quirky filmography so far. With Black Bear, he has left enough room so that people would be curious enough to keep thinking about it some time after, trying to figure out if the titular black bear is a metaphor or something they had missed.
Black Bear is definitely a movie that is destined to develop a following no matter how small, among people who would spend a lot of time dissecting, replaying, and analyzing the movie to death. That is a pretty big compliment to give to the film.
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