Black Bear

Aubrey Plaza roars in the film within a film.

“Black Bear” is a different kind of independent film, because of how it distinguishes between scenes and filming the actual scenes. This could be called “a film within a film.” The movie is divided into two parts: the first part is about a filmmaker with writer’s block and an unhappy couple, and the second is the process of filming the first part.

You have to read the reviews in order to get the gist of “Black Bear,” but it does explode with how the leading actors (Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbot, and Sarah Gadon) adapt to their characters, and how the movie takes different direction.

Plaza stars as Allison, an independent filmmaker (“small films that nobody likes,” as she describes them), who joins a couple in a lake house in the Adirondack Mountains. They’re the pregnant and strong-willed Blair (Gadon) and the male-chauvinist musician Gabe (Abbot), whose family owned the lake house. They’re trying to figure out what to do with the place, while Allison is looking for inspiration for her next project. She’s not much of an actress, and is in the middle of writer’s block.

Arguments break out, as Blair criticizes Gabe for his anti-feminism beliefs and thinking Allison is attractive. He assures her, he loves her, but he ends up spending the night with Allison. It ends up becoming a horrifying night for all of them.

The second part reveals that this is a movie, Gabe is the filmmaker and Allison is his actress wife, who argues with him about how many takes she gets compared to Blair. This time, it’s Allison who’s the jealous one, and she becomes a drunken mess, deliberately stressing Gabe during the filming.

I know this sounds confusing, but in a strange way, it works for me. I admire how writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine draws the sentimentality and bold creativity within its particular genre. The genre I’m talking about is a black comedy thriller that isn’t the kind of exciting thriller you’re used to, but rather the emotionally complex thriller which tests everyone’s senses.

The reason for the title being “Black Bear” is because Allison often hears a black bear growling and knocking over the garbage cans, and sees one during the film. Plaza also yells a lot during the second half of the movie. And that’s the title of the film her character is starring in.

She delivers a roaring performance in both sides of the movie-playing the independent filmmaker and later the actress in an independent film. Abbot also equals his characters with his character’s male chauvinist attitude and pushy motivation. And Gadon is better in the first half than the second, because first, she ignites flames as the pregnant woman, and then she becomes lackluster as the actress.

Watching “Black Bear” was a strange and absorbing experience for me. It transcends its character development from the first part to the second part. It balances its perspectives on reality and filmmaking, and it twists them with certain ambition and integrity. And seeing Plaza in a role like this reminds me of her character in “Ingrid Goes West,” when she played a social media nut seeking for the fame and love she deserves. Both these movies help represent the best of her material.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Select Theaters and On Demand

Categories: comedy, Drama, Thriller

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