SUNDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Black Bear, written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, is a dark philosophical comedy, whose ruminations on relationships and the meaning of life in the 21st-century ring true. Levine, a director, writer, and actor known for Always Shine, Wild Canaries, and Gabi on the Roof in July, has outdone himself, as Black Bear proves to be his most distinguished film. Throughout clever turns and twists of the plot, Levine presents a meditation and deconstruction on life imitating art and vice versa with a dash of Robert Altman and a nod to David Mamet as players fill in the story. The seriousness of Black Bear is repeatedly flipped, so it is at times funny, while also being an intense drama, all the while exploring human action and reaction.
It all starts at a lake house in the Adirondack’s where a screenwriter (Aubrey Plaza) seeks solace to find some inspiration for her next project, or so it seems. As she is contemplating new movie ideas on a lakeside dock at the mountain retreat, the drama involving the couple (Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon) who are living in the house becomes increasingly distracting. Mind play and trickery between the expecting couple results in a mess of human interaction involving lust, mental prowess, and defining art versus reality. And all this is only a part of what’s to come. Need I mention, there’s also a great deal of beauty and talent at play too.
“…a screenwriter seeks solace to find some inspiration for her next project, or so it seems.”
Divided into two parts, which both incriminate a black bear, perhaps a Faulkner reference, Levine builds Black Bear as a mysterious story of the unknown and unseen. This film within a film has an incredible supporting meta cast as a film crew whose timing and comedy is priceless. The ultimate comic relief comes as the dark and gruesome sides of Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon appear in their interplays as the couple’s schemes bring about interesting outcomes.
When the lead in the film’s film is forced to act her best in a scene that has already been played out in the opening of Black Bear, the director, who is also her husband, maintains his artistic integrity. Though she is intoxicated, on purpose, and emotionally vulnerable, which is unavoidable, he gives her full breadth thus making the beginning of Black Bear also its end as drama and unconscious ideas crash into one another. The notion of deception and betrayal are high and edgy as far as the story goes, but, after all, it is a film about a filmmaker trying to script her next project even if she’s having writer’s block or so it appears.
Black Bear premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.