Black Bear review – a remarkable turn by Plaza

December 25, 2020
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Film Reviews


Black Bear has a remarkable turn by Audrey Plaza.



Black Bear has a remarkable turn by Audrey Plaza.

Everything you heard about Lawrence Michael Levine’s head trip of a movie, Black Bear, is true. It’s a twisty psychological thriller that would make Sean Durkin proud. It is a polarizing film that is destined to have a conflicted Rotten Tomatoes score when compared to the audience grades. There is one part of the film that cannot be debated — it has a remarkable turn by Audrey Plaza.

Levine’s film tells a story about a filmmaker, Gabe (Christopher Abbott), who plays a mind game with his lead actress, Allison (Plaza). It’s a series of calculations as he tries to manipulate her desires and even jealousy. Though, it is hard to tell if this is reality, because alternatively when Allison shows up at Gabe and Blair’s (Enemy‘s Sarah Gadon) mountain cabin retreat, it is Blair who is toying with Gabe’s emotions, but is there a valid reason for it? Are you confused? Do not worry, everyone else is.

The thing about Levine’s script is that just when you think you know where it is going, it takes a shift that makes you question everything you have seen. What is real and what is not? Have characters suddenly switched identities like swapping someone’s secret Santa? However, perhaps the biggest question it brings to mind is when the story begins and ends.

The whole making a movie about filmmaking or using the movie-making process as a landscape to tell stories has been played thousands of times. That is a risk that always has the chance to turn off its audience. There is a real hypnotic power here, however, that rivals some of the best psychological thrillers made in recent years. The first half of Black Bear has an honest tension that builds. It is palpable and you start to watch the dialogue between your fingers as you cover your face.

The chemistry between the three actors, Gadon’s bitter Blair, Abbott’s sulky Gabe, and Plaza’s ambivalent Allison, is engrossing. As the dialogue between the characters triangulate, moving and surprising interactions and reactions bring out deeply buried emotions. When the film takes a complete shift in narrative structure is when Black Bear finds its heat, brought out by Plaza’s blazing performance. Her once confident, empowered demeanor unwinds uncontrollably. It is a performance that will open up a world of new doors for her in the future.

All the actors get a chance to shine. Gadon, whose haunting final image in Enemy still sticks with me, brings depth to any role. Abbott has always been one of my favorite, underappreciated performers. They all have a hand in Levine’s haunting Black Bear successfully blurring the lines between leadership and manipulation or what is factual and ad-libbing. The film, however, is too specific and nonconformist to be a mainstream hit that audiences respect.

Most critics are using the tagline to describe Black Bear as a lot to unpack, and it is. Though, it is kind of like unpacking a bag you did not put together and then putting it back into a suitcase that looks awfully similar. Right? Yes? No? You are welcome, America.

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