Generally speaking, it’s a bit daunting to discover that a movie is a movie within a movie, or that it’s somehow about itself, or a commentary on itself. pulling on the rug isn’t nice when the rug never felt very interesting or safe in the first place. But the meta gets better in Lawrence Michael Levine’s fast-paced but gripping comedy Black Bear, which is a recurring nightmare, or rather, a two-act entertainment about the messy business of making a personal movie based on true events. Is the movie that is shot in the second act inspired by the events of the first? Or is the first act a movie (or a dream, or a daydream) inspired by what happened in the second?
aubrey plaza brings all her flair for humorous and inscrutable irony to the role of allison, a filmmaker who arrives at a beautiful lakeside home for the weekend with the apparent intention of recharging her creative batteries and working on a script. . We see her taking notes on a notepad, and her scribbled handwriting is the subject of the intertitles and credits. The house is owned by a handsome couple, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), who are friends of Allison’s friends and have an informal policy of lending their house to artistic people.
From the beginning there is an unsettling chill between the three. Allison sets a tongue-in-cheek, teasing tone that is dangerous for people who don’t know each other well; Blair doesn’t know if he’s joking with her or flirting with Gabe, and Gabe thinks Blair’s sudden need for wine is inappropriate given that she’s pregnant.
Dinner drinking and arguments escalate to Burton and Taylor levels in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, as do Allison’s moody taunts, clearly triggered by an attraction to Gabe. everything leads to a horrible outcome. But then Levine lowers the curtain and lifts it again to reveal Allison sitting calmly once more in her one-piece bathing suit, looking out over the water. we restart for another take? Yes and no. now there’s a different situation, different people, and a different crescendo of sexual discomfort.
This new tone and the new expanded cast refresh and invigorate the film in an ingenious way: the tempo, the musical score, the new internal dynamic of the group create a surprising change and yet the relationship with what has happened before charging the action with transcendence. we’re looking at a very dysfunctional family here: black bear has something of truffaut’s day at night, plus alvy singer in annie hall, directing theater scenes based on his own life and never quite satisfied.
More importantly, the argument that led to the debacle in the opening act was about gender roles: perhaps in a contrary mood, Gabe had said that the abandonment of these roles by society modern had led to unhappiness. Shocked by this reactionary disloyalty, Blair accuses him of being anti-feminist, but Allison agrees with Gabe. however, it is allison who is the filmmaker and who she says she doesn’t mind seeing herself on screen. In the second act, however, we see Allison in a completely different light: she is the actress and Gabe is the director of her.
so who’s in charge here? who is the director? o the black bear suggests that, as a star, allison has the power; she’s directing what happens, especially since she can make last-minute changes to the script. This is Plaza’s best role yet, her cool feline sensuality accomplishes something more mysterious than anything in her previous work. and the black bear of the title inevitably takes more than one form: a nickname, a metaphor for sexual danger, a bear of flesh and blood. it is symbol and reality: like the film itself, it is a double act with claws.
black bear opens on April 23 on digital platforms.