Black Bear (2020)

Quick synopsis: Audrey Plaza plays an actress in her partners film, and gets jealous of how he acts with the woman playing his wife. Weirdness ensues (in shoes)

This was not what I expected. I expected standard Plaza snark. I heard it was a slight head-fuck so I was expecting something like Life After Beth. This is nothing like Life After Beth. This is…..it’s something else. It’s something unique. There’s not way I can talk about this without spoiling it so here goes. For the first third of the film we see Plaza walk into a guys house that he shares with his wife, and seduce him. It then turns out that was part of a film-within-a-film and in reality she’s the guys partner. As the film progresses we realise she’s worried that he’s cheating on her with the woman who plays his wife, an idea that he pushes as he thinks it will help her performance. That’s a very telling piece of character work as it highlights how he’ll put his work over his wife’s own mental health. This causes her to drink heavily (and the rest of the crew to be horrified with him).

That’s the most normal way I can describe it, and it still involves pointing out that a third of the film is a film within a film. It’s a weird film, but in an incredibly normal way. It’s not weird in what happens, there’s not really any “wow, that’s a freaky special effect” moment. It’s more a weirdness in terms of atmosphere and feeling. The whole film FEELS incredibly tense. You know when you’re drinking with people and it all feels normal, until two drunk people disagree? That feeling that hangs in the air, even when one of the two people leaves you still get that tension in the air, that tension where it feels almost certain that they’re going to come back and shoot everyone. It’s a heavy energy that weighs everyone down. THAT’S what this film is, and it’s a fantastic watch. Weird thing: I can’t remember that many individual moments. But it’s not a film of moments, it’s a film of tone. It’s almost like you take it all in at one moment like the characters in Arrival (fantastic film by the way). If it was an album it wouldn’t be one full of hit singles, but one you put on and listen to in full with headphones in the corner of a room.

It helps that it’s directly beautifully. Lawrence Michael Levine has the talent to let scenes breathe, going on longer than other directors would until it becomes uncomfortable to watch. Now I’m going to have to be very careful with how I phrase this next sentence, just go into it knowing it’s a compliment. It feels cheap. It doesn’t feel like a slick big budget film. It has the air of someone just grabbing a camera and filming something with their mates one weekend. It kind of feels like a documentary at times. Actually now I think about it it feels more like you’re hiding in the bushes watching it. There’s an incredibly voyeuristic quality to the film-making that makes it seem like you’re peeling apart the lives of these characters, witnessing things you shouldn’t be seeing. It’s wonderful and I love it. The type of film-making that makes you want to go into the directors back catalogue and see what else they’re capable of.

So in summary I think you should check it out, but be aware there is a chance that you will absolutely hate it.

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