Black Bear (2020) – ON DEMAND

A creatively frustrated film director’s tumultuous visit to a young couple’s lake house may reignite her creative vision in writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear.

Waiting for something meaningful

by Chris Drew

Black Bear

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Black Bear pulls you in one direction and then another but frequently comes back to Alison (Aubrey Plaza, Ingrid Goes West) sitting alone on a jetty looking out onto the water deep in thought and contemplation. At its heart this is what Lawrence Michael Levine’s film is about; the search to fulfil the creative process and the different forms that can take.

In part 1, we meet Alison arriving at the remote lake house of musician Gabe (Christopher Abbott, It Comes at Night) and his pregnant partner Blair (Sarah Gadon, A Royal Night Out) for an unofficial writer’s retreat.

Thus kicks off a chamber piece between the three characters as the couple get to know their visitor.

As Blair perceptively points out Alison is difficult to read, it is never clear whether she is telling the truth or weaving a web of lies. She is also a bundle of contradictions, repeatedly saying she hates compliments while frequently complimenting Blair.

As the three talk and drink wine, including Blair, to Gabe’s occasional concern, it’s soon clear that Alison’s arrival has disrupted the couple’s power dynamic as simmering tensions boil to the surface, starting with Blair’s thinly veiled insults towards Gabe escalating to full-blown screaming.

The increasingly unsettling feelings of paranoia are reflected in both the repeated motif of a character looking in from outside a window and also the frequent threat of a bear outside in the dark.

Just as relations between the three characters are boiling over, Levine shifts us into a very meta part 2, where different versions of Alison, Gabe and Blair, along with a slightly chaotic film crew, are filming Black Bear at the lake house. We are left wondering if part 1 played out in Alison’s imagination or whether part 2 is part of her internal artistic canvas.

Aubrey Plaza gives a committed dramatic performance with her trademark deadpan humour largely under wraps but her large expressive eyes constantly alert. She is matched by Abbott and Gadon, who give wonderfully different performances in part 2 while maintaining superb chemistry.

Levine’s challenging and intriguing film is certainly one that leaves you thinking.

Black Bear is released on digital on 23 April 2021.

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