The Unwavering Genius of Aubrey Plaza: Black Bear (2020) - Reviewed

photo courtesy Amazon Studios

Jealousy, deceit and unbridled desire/lust all push to the surface in the new art house offering from director Lawrence Michael Levine. As his first full length feature in nearly six years, Levine finds new and able footing with a film that's genius in its use of one single set: a cabin in the woods that has a penchant for bringing out the worst in people. 

This new dual tiered film, Black Bear is an outlandish motion picture that relies heavily on Aubrey Plaza's never wavering skill at delivering overtly human characters that are deeply flawed beyond repair but demand our full attention. As a split story that's broken in two mysterious halves, Levine projects a film that plays like an indie stage play transposed to the screen. Coaxing us with strong performances from his three primary stars, Black Bear exists on a mysterious plane that ultimately conjures up deep rooted feelings of addiction,pain, loss, grief, and long term commitments gone sour. It also takes a deep dive into the creative process. 

With a script that demands her full absorption into the role, Plaza leaves a wounded persona on the screen, making audiences connect to her on a transparent level that succeeds at both annoyance and unchecked energy. Through her eyes we get a perfected look at method acting, the accomplished dynamic that she inhabits, and another artistic contribution that pushes her to the top of the list of the best female actors working today. Black Bear will push some people away especially in its second bit because it's almost too close to the reality of relationships between men and women. Paired with Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott, this is a trifecta of actors that don't shy from challenging work. 

photo courtesy Amazon Studios

At the core,
Black Bear looks at intimacy and how easily we can use our love to manipulate and torture the ones we supposedly care about. It's also an inward piece that sometimes struggles to get its full point across. The midway split between two opposing stories is mildly forced at the cost of sacrificing the connection his audience has already made to three unlikable, intensely bruised personas. Yet, the second chapter really does hit on something freshly dramatic. His look at the independent film set is an interesting one that film fans will unabashedly adore. 

This is a hard one to pin down. Black Bear is definitely going to suffer under the weight of not being a-typical. Aubrey Plaza takes cues from her Ingrid Goes West character to pull another switch-up that is uniquely her own. Teamed with a script that doesn't care what anyone thinks, this is one to watch if you're a fan of Noah Baumbauch's 2005 The Squid and The Whale or other films that focus on the breakdowns in our adult alliances. See it but go in knowing that this isn't what you're expecting. 

Black Bear is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.

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