The bear in Mickey And The Bear is not referring to the animal. It is a metaphorical bear that haunts the titular character’s life in two ways. Michaela “Mickey” Peck (Camila Morrone) lives with her veteran father Hank (James Badge Dale), who drinks himself into oblivion every day and is barely skirting by a complete mental break despite the various medicine his doctors prescribe him. Her mom died from cancer a while ago, but it weighs heavily on both of their minds. Hank behavior veers from very sweet, to forgetting who she is (and sometimes where he is), to violent fits of angry in a snap.
At school, her boyfriend Aron (Ben Rosenfield) is becoming increasingly controlling of her to a degree Mickey cannot deal with anymore. As such, while at a bonfire party she breaks up with him. Enter the new kid in school, Wyatt (Calvin Demba). Wyatt and Mickey have instant chemistry, and he encourages her to go to college. She encourages him to pursue his incredible musical gifts. Things seem to be looking up for Mickey, as even the head psychologist Leslee (Rebecca Henderson) is taking a more proactive role in her father’s care. However, Hank begins to unravel more and at a quicker pace. Mickey is now caught between her love of Wyatt, not to mention her bright looking future and her love and obligation to her father.
In my review of the short film Leland, I questioned why Lindsay (daughter of the title character) wants to stay and help her deadbeat dad do anything. He is a constant source of frustration in her life and is remarkably selfish. Annabelle Attanasio is only 25 years old, yet in her feature-length debut Mickey And The Bear, she showcases deep insight into human emotion, not to mention astounding behind the scenes skills. Unlike in the other film, I totally got why Mickey wants to stay and help her dad; while at the same time, you know she needs to be free of him and her small Montana town.
“…Mickey is now caught between her love of Wyatt, not to mention her bright looking future and her love and obligation to her father.”
This is harder to pull off than it sounds because if the writing for the father character went too far either direction, none of the dramatic beats of the story would ring true. If Hank were too sympathetic or nice than his jolts of terrifying anger would be laughable, thus robbing the film of any stakes. If he is too violent and despicable, then, as I did with that Hawaiian set short the audience would question why she hasn’t yet become a ward of the state.
Attanasio brilliantly pulls off this hat trick, as well as maintaining a well-rounded stable of supporting characters. Aron acts dickish at times and seems quick to anger, but he is sincere and loves Mickey the best way he knows how. Wyatt sees Mickey for who she truly is, or at least for whom she wishes to be, and his gentle nudges of her toward the person is disarming in how realistic they feel. Leslee, after a heated exchange with Mickey, agrees that the high schooler has a point. This turnabout shows the reason this character become a doctor, to begin with, and that Leslee wants the best outcome for everyone involved.
Henry Hayes edited Mickey And The Bear, and it is excellent. No scenes last too long or feel unnecessary. During picture day at school, the photographer pleads with Mickey to smile, yet she won’t; until Wyatt walks up. This is before they begin their courtship, so it is a beautiful signifier of things to come. The way the scene goes from the photographer to Mickey’s deadpan face, to Wyatt slowly sliding up to just behind the camera shows finesse and builds a sweet little tension between the characters.
“If the writing for the character went too far either direction, none of the dramatic beats of the story would ring true.”
Camila Morrone is captivating as Mickey. She conveys strength and fear in one fell swoop that commands your attention every time on screen (which is 99% of the movie). Hank comes home from being out and asks why his daughter is all dressed up. After a blank stare, Mickey informs him that it is her birthday. In that momentary pause, where she is uncertain if Hank is pulling her leg or not, Morrone’s expressive face says more than words ever could. James Badge Dale, always a welcome presence (and often the sole saving grace of a lot of crap films), has never been better than he is here. At the bar drinking by himself, Hank notices Leslee there. After a few pleasantries, he goes off on her for talking to Mickey behind his back.
Given that Mickey is taking care of him, not vice versa as it should be, it seems an odd reaction. However, Hank is nothing if not prideful and feels this transgression undermines his authority as a parent. Dale’s way of going from saying to him and creepy and threatening is spellbinding.
In that same scene, Rebecca Henderson holds her own handily. She doesn’t care what Hank thinks and makes sure he knows that. Demba as the good-natured Wyatt is fantastic. The awkward way he convinces Mickey to stay for a track meet will put a smile on your face. In an uncomfortable moment with Hank, Demba makes the audience feel his characters heartbreak. Rosenfield’s Aron is annoying, in that way cocky high school kids are always irritating. During a party after their break up, Aron is desperately trying to apologize. Rosenfield makes it a sincere attempt, and the viewer may even feel a little bad for the guy.
Mickey And The Bear is remarkable, maximizing its heartbreakingly honest script and emotional directing. Bolstered by a phenomenal cast and an ending that will leave the audience breathless, there is not a single misstep in the entire production.
Mickey And The Bear (2019) Directed by Annabelle Attanasio. Written by Annabelle Attanasio. Starring Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, Rebecca Henderson. Mickey And The Bear screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival.
10 out of 10 Gummi Bears