I’m not sure what message director Lawrence Michael Levine was ultimately trying to convey in Black Bear but I thoroughly enjoyed the ride.
I’m only going to tell you about the first part of this movie as to learn any more would spoil it somewhat. Dourly cynical Allison (Aubrey Plaza) arrives at the magnificent lake-side cabin (mansion) inhabited by couple Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon). They are artists from the city who have relocated to Gabe’s empty family holiday home as Blair is pregnant and they see opportunities to make an income from paying guests. Allison is a former actor turned filmmaker and it seems she is using her stay as a chance to work on an idea for a new movie.
As Gabe and Blair host a dinner for their guest, the cracks in their relationship become apparent. They argue about everything, from the trivial – is it one and a half or two years that Gabe’s mother has been trying to sell the house – to the serious – did housewives of one hundred years ago really hate not having any choice or control of their lives? They seem either to be at a difficult point in their marriage or perhaps they shouldn’t be together at all.
Allison doesn’t help smooth the waters. She sides with one and then the other, sometimes serious and then insisting that it is all a joke, until the fracas becomes incendiary. And then it all turns.
This is somewhat of a roller coaster of a story. We are kept on our toes as the narrative flips and turns, characters change and our understanding of what is real is challenged. I was left not being really sure what it was about but I think it’s a meta exploration of artists and the indie film industry and it’s not necessarily complimentary. At one point, Blair calls Allison’s films solipsistic and when she has to explain the meaning of the word – self-absorbed – Allison is flattered. I think that says a lot about the point of this film.
Aubrey Plaza is astounding and she completely carries what is a very difficult role, making us feel compassion for the rather unlikeable Allison. Abbott and Gadon are also excellent, although it’s Plaza’s film. The world of filmmaking is nicely created and the secondary characters are slight but interesting – I suspect there are some filmmaking in-jokes interwoven in there. We do see a black bear and I’m still mulling over what it represents – maybe self-destruction? Or perhaps its a MacGuffin and the joke is on us for trying to deconstruct a film that, ultimately, has no profound message. How meta.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.