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Black Bear

Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

Black Bear
dir-scr Lawrence Michael Levine
prd Julie Christeas, Jonathan Blitstein, Richard J Bosner, Aubrey Plaza, Lawrence Michael Levine, Sophia Takal
with Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, Paola Lazaro, Grantham Coleman, Lindsay Burdge, Lou Gonzalez, Shannon O'Neill, Alexander Koch, Jennifer Kim, Kevin Barker, Mary Borrello
release US 4.Dec.20
20/US 1h44

plaza abbott gadon
SUNDANCE FILM FEST



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plaza and abbott
This film's relaxed intelligence has an electric charge that pulls the audience deeply into a witty but dark psychological odyssey. It's a talky film, but the dialog is packed with fireworks. And the plot is impossible to predict, as filmmaker Lawrence Michael Levine spins events around to explore how people mess with each other mentally, intentionally or not. It's a fiendishly clever, often exhilarating film that digs very deep indeed.
Looking for inspiration, actor-filmmaker Allison (Plaza) rents a room in a mountain cabin on the edge of a picturesque lake. It's owned by friend-of-a-friend Gabe (Abbott) and his pregnant wife Blair (Gadon). There's an instant spark of subtle flirtation between Allison and Gabe, which of course Blair notices. While Allison can't help but feel awkward as she witnesses aggressive disagreements between this couple. As all of this leads to the expected transgression, the story's perspective suddenly shifts. And in this new context, the tensions between these three people are unnervingly inverted.
The script cleverly slices through each relationship with intensely textured conversations, especially in the sequence of cutting comments between Gabe and Blair, who seem to disagree smilingly about everything, clearly still aggrieved about giving up their musical and dance careers, respectively. Discussions roll out casually, as each character drops comments that stop the others in their tracks. Then halfway in, the film pivots to shift the nature of the story's reality, providing a new perspective on the emotional undercurrents.

Plaza's performance is staggering, veering from an easy-going cynic to a woman who loses all control. Maybe. And Gadon is superb as Blair refuses to bite her tongue with anyone. Their dynamic is riveting, especially with Abbott's rather typically insecure, unthinking man provoking them at each step. Gadon and Abbott brilliantly capture the respect that undergirds their relationship, even when they're at each others' throats. True feelings come out at unexpected times. And where the movie goes allows each actor to find astonishing layers of meaning.

The film's more comical second half has an edgier tone, with prowling hand-held camerawork and a crowd of busy characters swirling around the central trio. It's packed with running gags and telling observations, and the interaction inventively echoes what happened in the first half, but with an offbeat twist. So as these people continue to bring out unwanted emotions, the film becomes a remarkably knowing depiction of the nature of creativity, especially in the way truth and fiction are intertwined. And weaponised.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 16.Nov.20

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© 2020 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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