starring Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon, Paola Lázaro
written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine
by Walter Chaw Hyphenate Lawrence Michael Levine (Uncle Kent 2) ventures into Darren Aronofsky territory with his insular, solipsistic Black Bear--the kind of movie that actually deploys "solipsistic" as a word to develop its two female leads: one uses it, the other pretends not to know what it means. It's a game that sophisticates play with one another, I guess, and Black Bear, split into two loosely-related halves, is also a game sophisticates are playing with one another, or at least with themselves. In the first segment, co-producer Aubrey Plaza is Allison, a movie director renting a room in a cabin in the woods from a bickering couple, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon). Blair is pregnant, Gabe is insufferable, and the two of them spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not women had it better in the 17th century, when they were the property of men. (It's one of those arguments Jordan Peterson makes because Jordan Peterson is an incredible asshole.) So they fight, and Allison is caught in the middle. They also bicker about whether or not Blair should be drinking wine while she's pregnant, and then Blair goes completely apeshit and says that Allison's pussy probably smells like "spider shit." It might be an improvisation, which is really something if it is--and really something if it isn't.
So what's it all about? Black Bear is deeply unpleasant in a way engineered to defeat engagement. I didn't mention the epilogue, where it seems like it's all been a fantasy of Allison's to break her writing block, maybe. I'm hardly spoiling anything because I'm not sure of anything. The overall impression, though, is that Levine and company are interested in provoking a response through a contentious discussion of representation and the creative process. Maybe it's a defense of the asshole male artist or a defense of the Aronofsky-an "mother" who gives everything of herself, even her child, to the creative impulse of her man. It could be both of those or neither. Maybe it's a shrine to guys like Cassavetes, who once upon a time made unpleasant movies with a small and dedicated cast on a shoestring budget that still managed to have a certain spark of genius. They were effortless in a way that Black Bear seems full of effort. I have nothing against working for my art, mind. I just wish I thought there was something in it for me. Programme: NEXT