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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Black Bear' Review: Aubrey Plaza Needs An Artist Retreat

Aubrey Plaza sitting on a pier
Momentum Pictures

Coincidentally, a thrilling dramedy that I liked and my most listened to artist in 2020 according to Spotify (which surely will win the search engine SEO battle of the two) both share an animalistic name of Black Bear. Lawrence Michael Levine directed and wrote the piece which at the very beginning takes us to the rural parts of New York, the state, where our main character Allison (Aubrey Plaza), being an indie film director/writer, travels to an artist retreat hosted by a couple, Blair (Sarah Gadon) and Gabe (Christopher Abbott). The couple seems to be at a breaking point and not only because Blair is pregnant but mostly because they’re two sides of different coins, whilst Allison gets stuck between their arguments as she and Gabe continuously flirt with each other. That is only one side of the same coin but the fact that the film revitalises itself at halfway point is the real catch and why it works as well as it does.

No matter which half you evaluate, the one linking factor is the acting side of things. Gadon and Abbott are a strong black bear-ish backbone with their great output of interesting dialogue and they certainly would have made the whole thing fine just on their own, fortunately we do have Plaza making the finest work which keeps you enthralled furthermore. She keeps it calm and collected in the first half, more chaotic energy for sure in the second, never overplaying either but her comedic jabs are actually present in both which also speaks for the script; humour is never dampened, it’s just always low-key and appropriately used to spark up the conversations.

Said humour is a good example of the excellent control of a difficult film’s tone that Levine has. The way that the movie goes from static thriller (with humour) to whirling drama (with humour) is done in pitch perfect fashion, that is the mentioned revitalising because it sort of makes you reconnect with the material. To me personally it was the biggest of surprises because I went in completely blind—which is why I don’t talk about the second half so you could too—and the structural shake-up felt extremely exciting.

There isn’t a whole lot dragging Black Bear down as it is a low budget feature so the technical execution never goes beyond but it never took me out of the film either which is a good thing for anything lower budget. Ending of the film, based on the last scene, is comprehensible all around but it could’ve used another shake-up in the last 15 minutes to really leave a claw mark. Maybe one more retreat trip would’ve given an idea for that?

Smileys: Aubrey Plaza, structure, tone

Frowneys: Very, very minor issues with the ending

The bear in this and the cow of ’First Cow’ competing for the best supporting actress awards? Let’s discuss.


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