Review: Black Bear (Philadelphia Film Festival)

BLACK BEAR (2020)

A tale of two films in one, Black Bear is a twisty-turny ride that showcases Aubrey Plaza’s talent while driving towards a point that I am not sure the film ever quite makes.

Plaza plays a film writer who retreats to an Airbnb-like house in the mountains where she meets a couple, played by Christopher Abbot and Sarah Gadon. An evening of imbibing turns to argument and ultimately heartache moments before the film stops, flips the script, and takes off in a completely different direction. While endeavoring to dive into the mind of the filmmaker (at least I think so), the focus turns to the performances more so than the actual story. In fact, aside from the dynamics of the characters, especially Abbot’s as he pushes Plaza’s Allison into a manic state for the sake of art, there isn’t much depth to be found. You’re instead left trying to decipher what director Lawrence Michael Levine is trying to convey and, in my case, unsuccessfully so.

It can not be understated just how talented Plaza is. Her ability to explore a character’s emotional limits and utilize her emotive facial expressions to communicate is in a league of its own. This being the director’s third film, I remain intrigued by his approach to telling a story and building a structure that keeps the audience engaged, even if they don’t know what they are engaged in. I hope to see more of a complete outing in future films that don’t require a Mad Libs-like approach to filling in whatever you think is happening.

Black Bear releases in limited theaters and on VOD on December 4th, 2020.

Rating: 3/5

Photo from Variety

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