Understanding a movie comes down to your perception of the story. Sometimes you're left hopelessly glaring at the director's name, questioning one hundred minutes of your precious life you gave away. Or, you come away from an ending of a movie with an inspiring new outlook on life and our society. This is exactly what the new film 'Black Bear' has seeked to achieve. With an exploding two-act thriller, reversing character roles, and breaking the traditional wall behind the camera, it's explores unique indie filmmaking at its finest. Lead by the nonchalant demeanor of Parks and Recreation actress Aubrey Plaza, many were shocked to see her play an emotional and envious wife for the thriller.
Black Bear (2021)
The acting is phenomenal in this crazed drama. Successfully playing two mirrored characters within one film is an admired talent, and Aubrey Plaza and Sarah Gadon pull it off impeccably. The first act shows Blair (Sarah Gadon) as a jealous pregnant wife, welcoming Allison (Aubrey Plaza) into her let property for a holiday. The tension is instantly set alight between the two attractive females. Aubrey gallops her naked bum across the property in her swimsuit, attracting the eyes of Gabe (Christopher Abbott) the reserved husband whose seeking arousal. The conversations at dinner turn into heated debates about women's roles in society, as the script begins to captivate you. As an audience member, you're stuck in suspense as the housewife bubbles with rage over her husband's dismissive comments about feminism.
Breaking the film in parts creates the two opposing worlds the director was trying to achieve. The second act breaks away from the creepy horror that drew you in. You're suddenly thrown into a dramatic 'behind the camera' crew of making a feature film, with Gabe as the director and Audrey as the star. The drama flips, with Allison now married to the aggressive and arrogant director, worrying about her husband's affair with the now plain-looking extra, Blair. It's a clever and elusive narrative twist from director Lawrence Michael Levine, showcasing messages about identity, and how people can so quickly change their personas.
The repetition is a key driving factor in the success of the film. There are lines repeated in both acts, scenes replayed with different characters, and references to the grizzly bear that all align, creating confusion in your mind, but ultimately linking together the drive behind the whole story. Is she writing this drama out in her mind, creatively making up her role within society, or has she lived this nightmare out in real life and wants to tell the story?
Black Bear (2021)
Having two juxtaposing acts worked well, but the second part felt frantic and overwhelming. The camera work was outstanding in moving you between the rooms, and you felt like part of the filmmaking, but the actors comedy and mockumentary feel came across as a joke for the story. This lost the intensity of the script, which had been built so well in the first half, leaving an grey and tiresome ending.
There is no doubt this is an experimental film, one that breaks the lines in questioning what the audience feels, reflects and believes from a movie. There's an incredible veracity behind all three leading roles. One being a mirrored view of a dysfunctional relationship, the other being the ongoing desire to be creating something amazing; whatever the cost. The most credible being Alison, expressing how society, through the ages, has pressured actress' for a role. Directors, producers and studio heads have created a horror for these stars in the past in which, in the end, they are unaware of what is real life, and what is performance. An entertaining and challenging watch, one which felt almost alive in my living room.
Initial release: 24 January 2020