You might have seen her as the incredible straightforward April Ludgate in “Parks and Recreation” or as the crazy Ingrid Thorburn in “Ingrid Goes West” or you might remember Aubrey Plaza for her spot-on opening monologue at the 2019 Film Independent Spirit Awards. If you adore her for her death serious, and punchy dark style, then you will fall in love with her career-high performance in “Black Bear” by writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine (“Wild Canaries”, “Gabi on the Roof in July”). Even more so because Plaza is being surrounded by a stunning supporting cast and remarkable cinematography.
Every writer already experienced writers’ block in one way or another and so does Allison (Aubrey Plaza). To relax and find inspiration, she heads to the beautiful lakeside home, owned by musician Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and his girlfriend Blair (Sarah Gadon). What started as a quest for peace and quietness becomes an extremely “Black Mirror”-like experience. From the moment she arrives, Gabe starts flirting with her and you would think that Blair would want Allison out of the way instantly. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case at all. The three get along quite well until one late-night drunken evening. Many arguments and a lot of flirting from the three parties arise, leading to an unexpected and twisted turn.
We don’t want to say too much but “Black Bear” becomes a totally different movie during the second half of the film. Director Levine has an excellent eye for details and can count on endless creative possibilities. All of them involving multi-layered storylines and many beautifully developed characters.
If you have three-dimensional characters, you need the talent to pull off every side of the character. It’s clear that casting directors Henry Russell Bergstein (“Stage Mother”, “The Kindergarten Teacher”), Allison Estrin (“Villains”, “Snatched”) and Jenn Gaw (“Summer Forever”, “The Evening Hour”) understood that briefing completely. They give Plaza the chance to demonstrate a more serious, darker and dramatic side as Allison. Whether it’s as the retrieved writer or as the woman who becomes entangled in an already messed up relationship, Plaza knows how to portray the many aspects of Allison.
What makes this movie stand out is the distorted but fitting chemistry between Abbott (“Possessor”, “First Man”). They make the interactions between Allison and Gabe uncomfortable and peculiar to watch, but in a good way. There’s also the stunning on-screen relationship between Abbott and Gadon (“American Woman”, “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”) as they bring the most hair-raising dialogues beautifully to the screen. The on-screen banter and arguments reflect the ones we have in real life. So If you put these three wonderful together, you get a dark representation of issues, illusions, insecurities, lies, intimacy, deep secret feelings and unresolved problems. They make this film feel like an incredible modern twisted adaptation of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”.
The acting performances are exceptional, and so is the cinematography from Robert Leitzell (“The Heart Machine”, Women Who Kill”). He shoots every scene beautifully, and the stunning colours heighten the stunning visual elements even more. The movie flows very smoothly and gracefully thanks to the editing of Matthew L. Weiss (“Detonator”) and is a pleasure to watch.
After being released on digital on the 23rd of April, “Black Bear” will hopefully make its way to U.K. cinemas soon. The twisted story needs to be seen in full glory, just like the tremendous performances and the gloomy cinematography.