GFF 21: Black Bear (2020) – Film Review


Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear is destined to bake many a noodle at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival.

A woman sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away. She gets up, returns to her house to sit down with a pen and paper to write.

“A Bear On The Road”

That women then appears at the same house as a guest of couple Gabe and Blair. Her name is Allison and she is a filmmaker looking to spend some time at their woodland retreat in order to work on a project.

Over the course of dinner, and a lot of wine, tensions rise and sparks fly in terms of temper and passion. All of which leads to a shocking climax.

“The Bear By The Beach House”

Cut to the same scene at the beginning of the film with Allison sitting on the dock. Only this time she is being filmed as part of a movie. Gabe is now the director of the movie and Blair is another actress in the film.

It transpires that the film they are making bears an uncanny resemblance to the evening that played out in the first act. Although now Allison is the spurned wife and Blair the seductive engenue. One who is pretending to have a real-life affair with Gabe in order to draw out a more realistic performance from Allison.

Confused yet?

What makes the potentially headscratching film work is a trio of actors who help ground the story and engage the audience.

Christopher Abbott is on a festival hot streak at the moment with The World To Come at Venice, Possessor at London, On The Count Of Three at Sundance and now Black Bear. He is a wildly exciting indie talent and effortlessly switches from the browbeaten husband in the first act to the self-involved, obsessive creative “genius” director in the second.

Fresh from stealing scenes in Happiest Season, Aubrey Plaza is one of the exciting actresses working today. Her deadpan, sardonic delivery that served her so well in Parks & Recreation and Scott Pilgrim is weaponised to great effect here. Blair comments that she is “difficult to read” and, just like the film overall, you are never sure what is the truth.

“I’ve been lying since the moment I got here”. Allison says it herself. If the other characters cannot trust her, how can the audience?

If Allison is behind the different versions of the stories, she is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators. It is almost designed to have audiences debate what the truth and meaning of the film was.

Is the first version of events, her recollection of an eventful night spent at the cabin? Then the second version is the making of the movie based on that story? Only Allison has taken on the girlfriend role in the movie as it gives her more to play with?

This is the type of film, similar to Under The Silver Lake, that will have some scratching their heads in bemusement. Others however will devote countless hours to Reddit threads and pour over theories with others to determine what exactly it all means.

Black Bear is a fascinating study of the subjectivity of art and a fantastic showcase for a trio of actors working at the top of their game.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Black Bear is released in the UK on 23rd April

Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Stars: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon
Runtime: 104 minutes
Country: USA

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