Black Bear – Film Review
by Katie McCann
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Writer: Lawrence Michael Levine
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon
Writer and director Lawrence Michael Levine is known for his intense character studies and for portraying offbeat characters. Black Bear, his latest film, delivers an absorbing and, at times, painful insight into the fractured dynamics of his three main protagonists. But don’t get too comfortable because just as you start to feel like you have a handle on things, the entire premise switches in a way that elevates Black Bear into a thoroughly engaging and dynamic watch.
Alison (Aubrey Plaza) is a filmmaker setting out on her latest project. She decides to spend time at an artists retreat run by couple Gabe and Blair (Christopher Abbot and Sarah Gadon) where things become very awkward, very quickly. It is clear that Alison’s arrival has caused tension between the couple and sparks of all kinds quickly start to fly. This is where the power of Levine’s script shines. He is a master of quick, witty, cutting and darkly funny dialogue. I challenge any couple to sit and watch the dinner scene near the start of the film and not recoil in horror at how the “banter” unfolds. Then just as you start to settle into what the film is about we suddenly face a huge turn and are now on the set of Gabe’s own film as if the entire movie has reset and subsequently recast its three main protagonists.
What initially feels like a character study turns into an exploration of the creative process and how people can either help or hinder it. All three main actors are superb, especially Plaza giving a fantastic and hugely vulnerable performance throughout. There are moments where things lag or feel a little too drawn out but the sharper moments more than make up for this.
Overall, this film asks more questions than it answers. Are we getting a glimpse into Alison’s own creative process? Are the scenes we see playing out the discarded drafts of her own film? Can we trust anything we see or hear? Does it matter? Black Bear is a very enjoyable and refreshingly challenging film that allows its audience to ask questions and then make up their
own mind. With a sterling cast that delivers throughout, there is something refreshingly odd about Black Bear that sticks in your mind long after the credits roll.