BLACK BEAR (2020)
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, Paola Lázaro, Grantham Coleman, Lindsay Burdge, Alexander Koch, Jennifer Kim, Shannon O’Neill and Lou Gonzalez.
Screenplay by Lawrence Michael Levine.
Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine.
Distributed by Momentum Pictures. 104 minutes. Rated R.
Screened from the 2020 Philadelphia Film Festival.
I’m not sure what to think about Black Bear. It’s extremely well made, terrifically acted, very atmospheric, and makes little or no sense. Literally, the first 40 minutes of Black Bear tells one story and the last hour tells an entirely different – though often vaguely parallel – tale. The same actors are playing different characters, with different relationships and often different personalities.
At first you think the first part is simply a film being made in the second part, but even on that basic level the storylines don’t match up. Big inconsistencies – like one character being pregnant in the first part and the same actress in the second part not even playing a pregnant woman – cause you to wonder what the heck is going on.
And what does the black bear in the woods have to do with either story, really, even though he appears in both?
Honestly, I never quite figured it all out.
Occasionally you come across a movie which seems to be a little too arty for its own good, and I’m afraid Black Bear falls in that category. I’m sure it’s trying hard to be some wonderful human allegory and was made with the idea of becoming a film festival favorite (little did they know when filming this by the time it hit the festival circuit that film fests would be through necessity be virtual), but honestly it is working too hard at quirkiness.
Which is a shame, because Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec) got a rare occasion to play a lead role – well, technically, she is playing two lead roles, here, I suppose – and she is wonderful. She is willing to be raw and exposed at the same time as she plays with her reputation for being smart and slightly snarky.
The other actors are also mostly terrific – and there are a lot of them, at least in the second part, the first section is pretty much three characters.
I really wanted to like Black Bear, and to a certain extent I did. It’s a smart and atmospheric and well-made film. If either one of the two storylines were focused upon and fleshed out and the other part was cut out, I would have probably thought it was a pretty terrific movie.
However, in the end the complete ambiguity of the film did not leave me feeling satisfied, merely confused. Maybe there is some deeper meaning which I’m missing here, in fact I’m rather sure there is. I believe that art needs a certain amount of ambiguity, but honestly Black Bear takes it too far. It’s an interesting experiment that doesn’t quite succeed.
(Ed. Note: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 annual Philadelphia Film Festival has been changed to a virtual festival. All films and Q&As will be available for streaming. You can get information on the festival at their website http://filmadelphia.org/festival/)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2020 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 3, 2020.