Black Bear

Year: 2020
Production Co: Tandem Pictures
Director: Lawrence Michael Levine
Writer: Lawrence Michael Levine
Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon

Allison (Aubrey Plaza) arrives at the end of a long driveway deep in the woods in her Uber. Gabe (Christopher Abbott) is waiting to meet her. She gets out with a suitcase and as they start to walk together it's obvious they don't know each other but she's staying at his AirBnB to work on her next project as a film director.

Their small talk on the way down the long wooded drive is flirtatious, but when they arrive at the huge, ornate cabin beside a lake we meet his beautiful pregnant wife Blair (Sarah Gadon).

The three talk, eat and drink wine and things quickly turn nasty. During a friendly but tense dinner confrontation the huge cracks in the couples' marriage are on full show.

Both of them correct and sipe at each other about everything from the house they live in to the baby they're having, the patriarchy and his stalled career, and passive aggression blares through the fixed smiles until it turns into an ugly screaming match before Blair storms off to bed.

Allison tries to accept some responsibility and excuse herself but Gabe insists his shrewish wife is the problem, but he goes to her anyway to try and calm her down. Allison goes off to swim in the lake despite the late hour.

Gabe and Blair make up, but when she goes to sleep he goes back downstairs to look for Allison, who invites him to swim with her. After they do so they come back up to the house to drink and talk more, Gabe admitting that he doesn't love Blair and the baby was an accident, and when he expresses his lust for Allison they end up in each other's arms.

But Blair wakes up, comes down and discovers them, getting so hysterical Gabe ends up pushing her against a wall where she collapses, bleeding, apparently having hurt the unborn baby. Panicking, he screams at Allison to bring his car up to the door and drive them all to hospital.

On the way there, all three screaming at each other from the fear and stress, a bear appears out of nowhere on the remote road in front of them, Allison swerves to avoid it, hits a tree and the scene abruptly ends.

We then switch to a seemingly alternate universe where the house is the location of a film shoot. Gabe is the director, he's married to Allison, who stars, and Blair is her co-star. Things aren't going well, Allison convinced Gabe is cheating on her with Blair (he is), Gabe just tearing his hair out to get the final shots finished because they're out of time.

A few other motifs are thrown in like the burgeoning gay relationship between the hair and make-up girls and the First AD fighting a bought of diarrhoea thanks to the spicy lunch she had.

There's already been a sombre foreshadowing from the first story where Allison has told Gabe she's now a director because she earned such a reputation for being 'difficult' as an actress nobody would hire her.

And even though Gabe and Blair are trying to pretend to Allison they're having an affair to make her performance more authentic (despite actually having an affair), they go too far.

Allison leaves the set, gets drunk, refuses to come back and say her lines, etc, and it only makes Gabe more stressed while he tries to wrangle the unruly crew and get the last few shots in the can.

From the beginning of the film we've seen a repeated shot of Allison sitting on the small jetty in the lake, wearing a red swimsuit and staring dejectedly out over the water then standing up, wrapping a towel around herself, returning the house and starting to write.

I think the entire second section of the film is supposed to be the film script (maybe just the notes) she's writing when she's finally inspired by the real people around her and herself, or maybe the film shoot portion is the real story and the opening of Gabe and Blair's crumbling marriage is the story she's writing.

I'm not sure, and whatever connections existed between the two stories were so deeply buried and made so little sense I didn't enjoy the film enough to want to find out.

As soon as I finish writing this review I'm going to read an article that supposedly explains it all and when I do I might have an 'aha' moment that will change everything I think about it, but if the film can't do that on its own merits it can be considered a creative failure.

I'm always a big fan of Plaza's sardonic persona, but here she shows a real vulnerability as well and her performance is dynamite across the board.

Abbott as Gabe just looks like the kind of guy who'd cheat on his wife (and it didn't help that I'd only recently seen him as the antagonist in It Comes at Night) so I wanted to punch him in the face from the first moment – especially so after seeing the way he treats the delectable Sarah Gadon.

It had some moody pretensions and – for a black comedy – a real horror movie aesthetic at times. It was very assuredly staged and shot, it just set up a mystery in the premise it then wasn't interested in explaining, and that always leave me cold.

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