• Nate Adams

Review: Self indulgent 'Black Bear' bites off more than it can chew


Courtesy of Blue Creek Pictures

Actor-writer-director Lawrence Micheal Levine - known for “Gabi on the Roof in July” and “Wild Canaries” - is the type of loose cannon filmmaker who reaches into the abyss and delivers profound, idiosyncratic, metaphors on life. His latest, “Black Bear” is a mixed bag of epic proportions that’s commercial and mainstream appeal will vary based on those who decide to give it a chance. One has to look at something and notice it's not for them: I fall into that camp, but that doesn’t mean others will follow. 


A dark and satirical comedy of awkwardness, Aubrey Plaza plays Allison, an actress turned filmmaker of small independent films that nobody watches (clearly Levine is poking fun at himself considering his movies are, for lack of a better word, unpopular”) whose facing a spat of writer's block and ends up at a weekend retreat with owners Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon) to spark her creative juices. Their relationship is the more intriguing element Levin puts forth: Gabe inherited the lakeside property and decided it was best to move his pregnant wife from Brooklyn (where the couple struggled to make ends meet) and test the waters of using the lakeside house as a B&B and Allison is the first guest. 


But Gabe and Blair aren't exactly normal hosts, nor is Allison - who is equally dry and loathsome - which makes for a chaotic evening of rowdy behavior and insults. Levine drops the audience at a turning point in Gabe and Blair’s relationship, where words hurt more than actions. Just as “Black Bear” hits its apex, a titled card saying “Part II” arrives on screen, and Levin, in pure meta-fashion, switches the framing of the entire movie. Now the same actresses are in a movie directed by Gabe whose primary focus is to push his starlet (and wife) Allison to the point of no return. 


These psychological mind games do little in the way of interpretation. Blair becomes the mediator on set, and Allison gets plastered before her big scene. This all happens as crew members are frantically scrambling behind the scenes making sure production is running at optimal levels. If this all sounds confusing that’s because it is. “Black Bear” seems more keen on the lack of resolution than the plot itself. Like “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” earlier this year, Levine is reaching, but too often tries manifesting energy that never becomes fully realized. 


Plaza and Abbott are dynamite, editor Matthew Weiss creates a tight 95 minute presentation, and Levine certainly made his version of the film that will spark debate and conversation (we get it, he’s the smartest man in the room). Those are usually the best discussions to have, and some will appreciate “Black Bear” for the bizarre head trip it takes them on, but it’s easy to see where the film’s eager self-indulgence bites off more than it can chew.


Grade: C 


BLACK BEAR is now on digital.