Black Bear Review: Arguments, Movies and Black Bears
Movies make people nuts.
What do artists have to do to find motivation? The answer changes depending on what artist you ask. In Black Bear, the answer from Allison would be… well, complex. It would certainly include travelling to the Adirondack Mountains to stay with a dysfunctional couple for a while. How thrilling.
Aubrey Plaza stars as Allison and I mention her right out of the gate because she’s easily the best component. In my mind, Plaza has managed to occupy a specific niche of playing off-kilter characters, She’s not limited to these types of roles but she excels at them. Allison is definitely off-kilter at the very least, but it’s an absolute pleasure watching her perform in this role.
With the power of Plaza behind her, Allison is neurotic, dangerous, intriguing and even sympathetic. She’s a little crazy, mischievous and mysterious in equal spades, but also hits higher emotional beats–crying. It’s a dark horse, powerhouse performance from Plaza, which is of course in part because the writing for her is solid.
Credit is necessary for the two others who act across from her, because without them this film is nothing. The couple is made up of Christopher Abbott, who plays Gabe, and Sarah Gadon, who plays his significant other Blair. These two are given a lot of material to work with as well, and because of the nature of the film, a lot is demanded from them.
The film lives and dies on the interactions between this trio because while there are other characters, the obvious focus is on them and how they convolute each other’s lives. And therein lies the puzzle of this psychological drama, how do they effect each other? What is the truth?
I won’t ruin it here, obviously. I won’t even hint at the conclusion; I’ll just state that it buckles a little under what it’s trying to accomplish. The opening scene is one of beauty and likely says more in its brief duration than the rest of the film does in its entirety.
I was completely seduced and instantly garnered a feeling of isolation, while appreciating the efficient simplicity of how it’s framed. I really expected the rest of the film to awe in in this regard–and it did, for the first part.
It’s really a tale of two movies. The first part is inspired and possesses an intense awkwardness–that Plaza perfects in real life and in films–from early on. The trajectory of the plot is a tad predictable but it rides that wave of discomfort by building up these characters, giving them real personalities and differences, and even allowing some rather controversial topics to be spoken of. There’s not a moment where I wasn’t on edge.
Then the second part came. Without going into too much detail, there’s an abrupt shift. It stumbles in this half because it undoes the goodwill from earlier and clumsily tries to piece together a mystery. At first it’s enticing seeing how things change, but after a while it just feels meandering. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very deliberate attempt to providing understanding for Allison’s character specifically. But it’s an overlong step back from what preceded it, and watching it fumble while it attempts to circle back lacks the emphasis that the first part did.
Speaking of the plot any longer runs the risk of spoiling something and without the curiosity it would suffer. Fortunately, it’s never a bad movie because even if the narrative trips over itself in an effort to be clever, the three core performances are all competent enough to grab your hand and lead you through the darkness. Black Bear is good, not great.
If you look really hard, you can see this guy running through the woods.
THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
BLACK BEARS ARE CUTE
Black Bear is a flick with a little meat behind it that gets in its own way. Aubrey Plaza, in particular, is an absolute star here, and the way her and her partners play off each other is always worth the price of admission.