by Rob DiCristino
Who’s ready to get their high-concept, intertextual tragicomedy on? Black Bear! Here we go: When indie filmmaker Allison (Aubrey Plaza) takes a working weekend excursion to a secluded mountain hideaway, she hopes to knock out the cobwebs and craft the next Great American Epic. Little does she know, however, that the hideaway in question belongs to Gabe and Blair (Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon), a pregnant couple teetering on the edge of implosion. Gabe’s the scruffy musician. Blair’s the ball-and-chain. Allison goes for lots of swims and frequently has no pants. You see where this is going. Black Bear takes its time, though, guiding its initial premise to its inevitable conclusion along a path that’s both entirely predictable and disarmingly subversive. Plaza plays her patented Fuck Off sardonics as alluringly as possible, taking Gabe’s side in petty squabbles and drinking just enough that her loose lips make Blair uncomfortable. Still, while there’s enough here to make for an intimate, sexy thriller, we can’t help but feel like we’ve seen this all before.
We’re doing cognitive backflips here, folks, and none of you would be blamed for drawing a suspiciously-strong throughline back to David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Lynch’s magnum opus is an influence, for sure; We’re all actors in starring roles. Our conflicts are copy, fodder for some hot director’s newest melodrama. Those sufficiently schooled in surrealism will find nothing revelatory about Black Bear, but that doesn’t make it a fruitless exercise. Abbott is particularly good in the Gaslighting Male part, and Plaza shows more than a few flashes of greatness through her intrinsic vulnerability and naturalism. She’s one of our next great Dames, mixing the inner strength of a Katharine Hepburn with the aloofness of a Helena Bonham Carter. Black Bear doesn’t entirely work, in the end, but the Parks and Recreation alum needs to keep flexing her creative muscle in these kinds of projects. Plaza is best when she’s given long takes to feel out her space and play the layers inherent in quality characters. Her best performance is still ahead of her, but this is one hell of a start.
Black Bear is available on VOD platforms on December 4th.