If you’re a fan of the unexpected, tense filled almost uncomfortable dramas with the lead male protagonist you want to poke with a fork, Black Bear by Actor-writer Lawrence Michael Levine might be a comfortable watch for you.
For everyone else, this trippy two act movie will agitate and titillate in equal measure. There’s awkwardness, sexual tension and enough voyeurism to make it feel a bit creepy.
But keep at it as you follow scheming protagonist Aubrey Plaza, unravel in front of your eyes.
The first act is set at a remote cabin in upstate New York, where Gabe, (played by Christopher Abbott) has inherited an impressive lakeside country lodge from his family. He and his wife Blair (Sarah Gaddon) relocated there from Brooklyn when they realised she was pregnant, and their own careers as musician and dancer were at a bit of a standstill. Plaza, who plays Allison, heads there for some R&R which she hopes will cure her writer’s block. But her arrival is a baptism of fire, as her kooky, unfiltered personality soon shines a light on cracks within the hosts’ relationship. With Gabe and Blair bitching at each other, Allison does little to dispel them, and continues with her free spirited vibe, which becomes obvious is attractive to Gabe and a threat to pregnant Blair. The uncomfortable scene ends with Allison and Gabe ending up in bed together- which was inevitable, but also very wrong.
Split into two parts, Act II is set in the same location but this time, the cabin has been turned into a movie set, so we’re watching a movie within a new movie, with the same characters in different roles. Sounds complicated right? Concentrate! In this version, Gabe takes on the role of flirty film director, whilst Allison (as his wife) plays the emotional, insecure, lead. However, it’s left open as to whether we should pity her, as she was the homewrecker in Part One.
The following scenes are comical- almost slapstick, with relationships developing between the crew, and pressure of seeing what goes on behind the scenes of film-wrap day.
We see Allison pushed to her limits with jealousy and insecurity with Gabe’s gaslighting- in order to get the best of her performance. However her response is getting even more wound up, and is about to head completely off the rails.
Perhaps it’s ambiguous as to whether we are ever supposed to understand Gabe’s “method” of directing. Is it self-indulgent, or is it revenge, is it destructive and emotionally abusive, or is there an understanding between the protagonists that makes the viewer the loser?
Like many indie films, there is not a satisfactory, conclusive ending. But it is definitely open for discussion and no doubt will be a film that you can watch time and time again.
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