Black Bear (2020)

Rates: * * * *

Why Did I Watch It? Viewed as part of MIFF 2020, via their digital platform.

Cast, crew, etc.

An aspiring film maker takes a vacation at a remote lake house. She is working on a script for a new film, and wants some time out to develop her ideas. The only other occupants are a young couple – the house belongs to a wealthy relative of theirs – who are going through a rough patch; he is a frustrated wannabe musician, she is pregnant, and not certain this wasn’t a terrible mistake. And then: there’s a rustling in the woods….

Lawrence Michael Levine’s puzzle box black comedy cum psychological thriller will put audiences into one of several camps. You start off watching one movie, half way through it cuts to an entirely different one. These are either two different versions of the in-movie script in progress (my feeling), or the script and then the real life events it is based on (view of friends of mine). There are undoubtedly other takes. And: you just might just shrug, or find it confusing.

Whatever your interpretation, this is a film about the creative process; a favourite topic of film makers, always. Where do our ideas come from, and how do we flesh them out? Allison, the film maker, seems to be using her own life as inspiration, but which parts of it are real? It is likely she was a spoiled brat actress with a bad marriage, and is now processing her breakup via her imagination. But she might be none of these things; she self reports as an unreliable narrator. It is like a more comedic version of ‘Mulholland Drive’.

The film also provides an interesting take on relationship dynamics. Each of the two segments features a three hander; there is a troubled marriage, and then a pretty outsider. But in both versions, the outsider is played by a different actress, each of whom exhibits opposite personality traits; and in both instances, she successfully catches the husband’s eye. The idea seems to be: it is not the woman he is interested in, but rather an escape from his own situation. He doesn’t really pay attention to any of these women’s personalities, he is only focused on what they represent to him.

Both film segments have a different tone; a creepy uncertainty in segment one, like an old Polanski classic, and then fairly broad comedy in segment two. That they both work well shows the director knows his genre tropes; the film is both unsettling and funny. It also allows Aubrey Plaza, playing Allison, to show off her range; she goes from uber-hip artiste to blubbering emotional trainwreck, and nails every beat in between. A top performance, from a talented actress.

An interesting, well made movie; fun to watch, and to dissect afterwards.

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