We’re leaning into a Feminist Rage month on the blogs this July because, well, why wouldn’t we? The world is horrifying at the moment, especially in respect of women’s and trans rights so it seems only fitting to spit vitriol all over the place and enjoy ourselves immensely while doing it.
Whether I actually fully understand the surrealism of this movie-within-a-movie is beside the point, it’s well crafted, well performed and awkward, with a central character who just loves to stir shit up.
I’m here for it all.
BLACK BEAR (2020)
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.
Directors: Lawrence Michael Levine
Starring: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon
Genre: Comedy, Drama ∙ IMDB user rating: 6.5
My score: 3.5/5 ∙ Runtime: 104 mins
Black Bear is a tale of two halves. In Part One: The Bear in the Road, Allison (Plaza) is a film director and former actress visiting a retreat in search of her creative mojo. The remote lake house, set in the mountains, is owned by Gabe and Blair (Abbott and Gadon), who accept their out-of-town-guest via the word of mouth of a mutual acquaintance.
Gabe is quickly interested in Allie, much to pregnant Blair’s dismay and the cracks in their relationship are all too obvious to us all, as they bicker about Blair’s drinking, their plan for the lake house, anything and everything really. Three’s a crowd at the best of times, but Allie exacerbates the situation by siding with both of them at separate times throughout the evening – and pissing off Blair with anti-feminist statements that contradict the films she’s directed.
When Blair storms off, accusing Gabe of being sexually attracted to Allie, he follows her to bed but not for long. After placating his wife, he joins Allie for a midnight dip which leads exactly where you’d expect it to. This scenario doesn’t end well for our twisted threesome as violence ensues, Blair starts losing blood and Allie is forced to drive the couple, after a night of heavy drinking, to the emergency room.
In Part Two: The Bear by the Boathouse, we join the same characters in the same setting but the situation is vastly different. Here Gabe is directing a film starring both Allison and Blair, only now the former is his wife of many years. On set, Gabe is openly abrasive towards his wife while showing his sweeter side to Blair. The pair set things up to look as though there’s something going on between them as Gabe swears it will bring out the best, most authentic performance in his wife.
Which isn’t a lie, honestly, but it’s not the cleanest or easiest method. Allie suspects her husband is fucking Blair and goes appropriately mad, smacking the woman in one of their scenes together and halting filming to get smashed. The crew do their best to keep things together as Gabe coaxes an astonishing performance out of his wife, but at what cost to their relationship? After the fact Allie laments the life they had before they started making movies while Gabe assures her that this film will put her firmly on the map. He swears down that he’s not interested in Blair, nor shagging her but the night is still young, baby – and Part Two draws definite parallels to the first.
What does it all mean though and what of these adorable little bears?
Firstly, Aubrey Plaza is stunning. Her Allison isn’t the most likeable character but it’s hard not to feel for (and with) her in the second half as she unravels publicly over her rocky marriage.
This film is very surreal, and to try and explain it would be hilarious because fuck knows. I dechiper it as being about art imitating life, but which part of it is real life, if any of it, is anyone’s guess. I enjoyed the ride though and appreciated the flaws of Allison. Gabe is insufferable, in both timelines.
What isn’t immediately apparent is that this film has a distinct sense of humour and the awkwardness of other people’s dirty laundry is balanced with observational comedy elements. There’s a skit in which Blair is accidentally covered in coffee several times that really tickled me.
I don’t really have anymore to say for myself, but I did like this. It’s not technically horror and isn’t labelled as such but I still think it has its moments. If nothing else the reality of other people’s relationships is scary AF.
Let’s see if Jill can explain it better than I can. (She definitely can).
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