Starring Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, Alexander Koch and written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, Black Bear (2020) had its world premiere at Sundance Film Festival back in January 2020. This brilliant piece of work is set to be released to the general public on December 4, 2020, but that date could change because of the extenuating circumstances of the current world. Today, let’s get into the incredible story woven into this film and why you should watch it if you get the chance.
Let’s get into the story.
When a young, artistic couple invite a filmmaker friend to their isolated lake house, they engage in a complicated series of mind games that challenge their relationships and creativity, and call into question the barriers they have constructed between their art and their lives. Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear is a thriller, a comedy, and a meta-commentary on filmmaking and desire. Levine’s film is a swirling showcase for his actors, who fully inhabit their characters in surprising ways, constantly shifting the ground beneath the viewer’s feet. (Montclair Film)
This film took me on a rollercoaster of emotions. In the beginning, I felt that I could easily relate to Allison (Aubrey Plaza) because I am also a creative that can feel lost. But by the end of the film, Allison is someone completely different. As a viewer you question: What is real? What is a lie? What should I believe and who should I trust?
The many long shots make the story seem even more realistic, almost as if you are watching a real conversation between three people and you are just the outsider looking in. The dialogue is well-thought out and profoundly interesting. The music dramatically adds to the tone of a scene and can make an interaction lean towards being more suspenseful or comedic.
My opinions on Blair (Sarah Gadon) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott) shifted dramatically through the film. In the first half of the movie, Blair annoyed me, but then I started to become more empathetic towards her. As for Gabe, I understood his feelings, but that does not mean that they justify his actions.
However, the second half of this film throws all of those judgements to the corner and made me have an underlying dislike for Blair and Gabe. Near the ending, I thought that Gabe redeemed himself, but I was proven wrong. Without giving away spoilers, character traits change drastically throughout this film and it is interesting how you can empathize for a character in one scene and despise the character the next. That being said, these extreme emotions can only be felt with incredible acting and writing. Everyone working on this film did such a great job.
One comment that I do have to make is about a scene toward the end of the film. There are a few cuts in the edit that took me out of the story. I am not sure if they were done purposefully to make the audience feel what the characters were feeling, or if they were done to comment on the intersection of film and real life, but they could also be a glitch in the editing.
Once again, well done to all the actors for making me believe in their completely different characters, the underlying manipulation, the genre-defying suspense, the repeating scenes of reality, and the dialogue that seemed so real and improvised that I cried because I felt so deeply for the characters. I also really like the title of the film. When I choose titles for my films, I like to choose words that draw attention to the overall meaning of the work and I think that is what “Black Bear” does for this film. The words “Black Bear” point the viewer in the right direction when they start to ponder the meaning of the film, and I really enjoy that aspect.
When art mimics life, where is the line drawn between the two?
I have not watched a film that was this great in a long time. If I was in film school, I could easily write an essay about this film and still have more I would want to talk about. The acting and direction is great. The story kept me interested and kept me guessing at what would happen next. The reason I gave this film a 9 and not a 10 is the ending and the somewhat slow beginning, but both can be expected for more indie film like this one.
Although I found the ending creative and open-ended, it left me wanting more. Maybe that is a good thing and compliments the director, actors, and everyone involved, but I felt like I needed some type of closure. Many indie films have open-ended endings like this one and I guess that I just need to learn to live with not having the answers to all of my questions. Maybe I should have given this film a 10/10, or a 9.5/10. Watch the film and let me know what you think!
Check out Black Bear:
Read more about the movie on IMDb or keep an eye out for when it is available for viewing online. Currently this movie is available to view online (for NJ and NY only) through Montclair Film Festival, but that is just for a limited time until October 25, 2020. If you watch the film through Montclair Film, there is also a Q&A after the movie with the director and writer Lawrence Michael Levine and the star Aubrey Plaza.
*Also, thanks to Montclair Film for allowing me to use their brilliant summary of this film. They are great at briefly describing a film without giving away important spoilers.