Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Black Bear, or: Tree You Later

Current events remind me that, though the undercurrent of the Blog Collab is typically feminist rage, it can always intensify. In light of an expected but no less horrific Supreme Court decision in the States, it feels like a good time to let anger take the spotlight in our film choices this month, then toast marshmallows over the flaming trash pile that is the future of a progressive society.

The Film:

Black Bear


Lawrence Michael Levine

The Premise:

As a film director seeks inspiration for a new film while staying in a secluded cabin, her hosts begin to suspect she may be playing an elaborate mind game.

The Ramble:

Following an acting career, Allison is now an indie film writer & director whose movies receive critical acclaim and not much else. Struggling with writer’s block and seeking inspiration for her next project, Allison retreats to a secluded cabin. Allison and her host Gabe seem mutually attracted to each other, which wouldn’t be a problem except for Gabe’s pregnant partner, Blair.

A woman carrying a shoulder bag walks along a wooded path with a man who is carrying her suitcase.

It really doesn’t take much scratching at the surface to realize Gabe and Blair are experiencing relationship problems, getting into minor disagreements about everything from why the couple left Brooklyn to how long the family’s home in the woods has been for sale. A major source of tension is Gabe’s musical career, which he insists is thriving despite evidence to the contrary.

A woman in a bright red swimsuit sits on a gray dock, holding her legs and looking out across the water.

Perceptive Blair has trouble understanding Allison’s intentions, sensing many of her comments are intended to prompt a reaction from the couple. Allison claims she has deliberately avoided learning to cook so she could never be a housewife, that her mother died of a stroke in front of the entire family, and that feminism is fucked up. The feminism argument is another sore spot for the couple, as Gabe insists he doesn’t subscribe to traditional gender roles yet maintains a belief that women in the 1700s were happier than their contemporary counterparts.

In a softly lit cabin room, a man presses his forehead to a blond woman's as he caresses her neck.

When the disagreement evolves into a major fight, Gabe apologizes and makes up with Blair. However, it’s less than charming when he sneaks off to creep on Allison and inevitably hook up with her. When Blair interrupts things, another fight with Gabe causes bleeding, a troubling sign still relatively early into the pregnancy. Allison, in a panic, begins driving Gabe and Blair to the hospital but swerves and hits a tree.

And that’s just part one, y’all.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Aubrey Plaza is deservedly recognized by the Collab as a deity, and she just keeps getting better as she continues to seek out rather strange, dark roles. The range from coolly calculating to emotionally vulnerable trainwreck is completely believable and by far my favorite element of this film.

Beyond that, I’m admittedly a bit out of patience for overly meta commentaries on film-making that are not quite clever enough to pay off. Allison’s trajectory is fun to watch in the beginning, but the abrupt shift in part two means there’s never really the satisfying conclusion we’re working towards in part one. I can appreciate that there’s a purpose in creating two jarringly different parts of the story, but I don’t find it as effective a technique as I would have liked.

Spoiler-y thoughts: there are some compelling moments between Allison and Gabe in part two as they enact a sort of tortured Liz Taylor/Richard Burton relationship that creates some extremely uncomfortable moments on set. It gets old, though, especially as Gabe is horrendous and terribly manipulative. I actually found the interactions with the crew and the commentary on their rather invisible role in the industry to be the more interesting piece in part two, but we don’t explore this a whole lot.

I’m sure it has a lot to do with the current nightmarish global sociopolitical landscape, but I largely wanted the simple comfort of Aubrey Plaza just mentally and emotionally fucking with people and displaying obvious joy while doing so. This sadly was not the main artistic priority of the film.

Would my blog wife scheme to make this one doubt its sanity or down a bottle of vodka with it? Find out in her review!