Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: Black Bear

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Copyright: Sundance Film Festival/Momentum Pictures

I always worry when a film details a story of someone in the creative industry. This sort of plot is a vacuum for wishful thinking, ego-rubbing nonsense, and that was my main concern with Black Bear, an Audrey Plaza led drama following a female filmmaker at a creative deadlock. A concept that has been through the wringer time and time again, more so now than ever before, the ease of access to filmmaking for amateur auteurs means this sort of story crops up frequently, and it often fumbles the message it wishes to convey, or the truth behind the curtain of filmmaking. How stars are influenced, where they get their inspiration from, there are attempts made in Black Bear that are admirable, but ultimately, this one falls rather flat.

Two characters cut into one another with every line of dialogue we have, yet we’re meant to believe they’re the loving couple of this first chapter. Stifled, stuttering wordplay that struggles under its lack of pacing. Only a few moments into the film and the seeds have already been planted, not with callous secrecy, but with obvious showmanship, flaunting itself as smart writing. All of it boils down into attempting an awkward atmosphere, but it does so with an inability to be natural. Jabs between Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), bubble over, and it’s not until later on into the film that we understand the true intentions. It feels rather similar to One Cut of the Dead, the narrative with the narrative, we peek behind the curtain for an elongated length of time, but the emotional toll it takes on those who are seemingly in control wanes rather thin.

Consistently shaky camerawork makes Black Bear a project that relies on long, unbroken takes, but these moments never offer up anything artistic. They’re there for the sake of it, to pop a cross in the box on the lengthy list of things Levine can do as a director. His twists and turns aren’t as smart as he has convinced himself of, nor do they offer up anything unique or exciting, it’s a genre where inspiration has all but dried up. Levine doesn’t fumble the film; he shows sparks of good time management and character study, it’s just that the characters aren’t at all interesting.

There’s a part early on in the film where Blair, in intense annoyance, asks, “What’s the point, Gabe?”. I wish I had an answer for that question, as it seems there is little point to Black Bear. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before. The creative with writer’s block, the many vices he or she may have, the picking up of the broken pieces. What Black Bear can offer is a step in the right direction for Plaza, who weans herself away from comedic outputs to something that takes much more focus and depth. I may not be entirely convinced by the surroundings of Black Bear, and its narrative style is all over the place, but it offers up good leading performances that linger near the dangers of mediocre supporting characters all too often. Mired by inconsistent writing, all Black Bear can hope for is a decent, dramatic love triangle between three characters that feel relatively underwritten.