Sommerleigh Pollonais, Senior Writer
Plot: A filmmaker at a creative impasse seeks solace from her tumultuous past at a rural retreat, only to find that the woods summon her inner demons in intense and surprising ways.
Review: Both the plot and the trailer for this movie doesn’t come close to explaining what this film is about and that’s fair. Black Bear is not an easy movie to explain to audiences, especially if you’re trying not to give away the twists and turns of it all. So bear with me (heh heh) as I try to unpack the meta-filled story of Black Bear.
The film starts off by introducing us to Allison, played by one of my favourite actresses, Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Recreation/Child’s Play 2019). She’s a writer who decides to stay at a beautiful cabin retreat owned by a couple, Blair and Gabe. From their first interactions, you get the sense Allison and Blair (who are strangers at this point) do not like each other. Their platitudes of “I love your bag” and “You’re so pretty” ring as intensely hollow and will easily remind viewers of similar moments you may have had or witnessed in your own lives that played out like this.
Things only get more awkward as Allison outright flirts with Gabe, played by Christopher Abbott, who I recently enjoyed watching in the superbly creepy Possessor. And as their dinner erupts into an all-out argument between Gabe and Blair, played by Sarah Gadon (Enemy/Dracula Untold), she accuses him of wanting to sleep with Allison. And you the viewer will find yourself feeling like a fly on the wall, or more realistically, a person unwantedly caught up in the kind of drama most of us hates to witness, that of a couple emotionally ripping each other to shreds.
Now this was just the first act and it’s near impossible for me to discuss what happens next without totally spoiling this movie, so for the love of movie commandment #1 (Thou Shall Not be a Spoiler of Movies) I’ll stop right here and get into the performances.
Aubrey Plaza is an actress who is most well known for her comedic talents, but if you’ve seen her work in films like Safety Not Guaranteed and Ingrid Goes West, you’ll know she is capable of so much more! Plaza has the ability to deliver her lines with a deadpan expression that leaves you wondering what she’ll do next, which works perfectly with the narrative of Black Bear. At one point, Blair tells her “You’re really hard to read” to which she deadpans “I get that all the time.”
Plaza’s performance here is nothing short of spectacular as she takes you through one helluva emotional rollercoaster and leaves you breathless by the end of it. Christopher Abbot’s Gabe is a man you’ll love to hate. When the twist is revealed and I regained my footing and started following this story with a very different view of what was happening, I couldn’t help but liken him to director Stanley Kubrick. His merciless pursuit of his own success at the cost of his wife’s very sanity wasn’t an easy thing to witness and I honestly wanted to punch him in the face, with a chair.
Besides the three leads, everyone else did a great job of portraying what it’s like to be forced to witness this emotional abuse. And I know you must be super curious by now trying to figure out what this story is about. Alas, I REALLY want to go into details, but I think the less you know going in the better.
I will say this — Black Bear can feel a bit obnoxious at times and I did find myself wondering if there was more style than substance to this story. But there is enough said here about the sometimes fake nature of “social niceties” and the toxic qualities of such relationships that I could forgive the film these flaws. I also really enjoyed how meta the second and third act was, getting a peek behind the curtain at how some creators can be aggressively selfish in their need to produce perfection in their desired artform, at the cost of their actors/crew.
It’s not perfect, but the fantastic performances, dark sense of humour and pitch-perfect pacing makes Black Bear the kind of movie you’ll be dissecting with your friends long after the credits have rolled.
Sommer’s Score: 7.5 out of 10
For Alice’s review of I’m Thinking of Ending Things you can click here.
Sommerleigh of the House Pollonais. First of Her Name. Sushi Lover, Queen of Horror Movies, Comic Books and Binge Watching Netflix. Mother of two beautiful black cats named Vader and Kylo. I think eating Popcorn at the movies should be mandatory, PS4 makes the best games ever and I’ll be talking about movies until the zombie apocalypse comes.
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