Black Bear ★★★★
Lawrence Michael Levine
Starring Aubrey Plaza, Sarah Gadon, Christopher Abbott, Paola Lázaro, Grantham Coleman
Chemistry is key with a dramatic piece of text; whether it be in play form, on the screen or even in music. If the balance between performers isn't right then an audience will be left feeling squiffy. And when a cast is initially only three actors strong this chemistry has to be even more electric. In Lawrence Michael Levine's recent triumph Black Bear, his three leading performers Aubrey Plaza, Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott are so interlocked and so focused on each other.
Allison (Plaza) is a struggling writer, going to a remote location to take refuge and look for inspiration; her hosts are Gabe (Abbott) and Blair (Gadon). The three share an excruciatingly awkward dinner together and this is where the amazing chemistry first has a chance to show off its flair. Longing looks across the table and painfully real eye contact makes for an unpleasant viewing experience, in the most hypnotic way. And this spurs into the rest of the evening, with interesting conversations being performed eloquently and chaos seeming so peaceful.
The film does change pace around the half way point, and becomes a completely different film in style, genre and atmosphere. Where the first part uses music to build suspense and add a tone of unknowing, the second part uses it to personify the chaos of a film set. The direction was unbelievably clear in both parts, and the ambiguity makes for an unsettling but strangely satisfying conclusion. A key metaphor throughout the film is possibly not explored enough, feeling more random when it does appear, but that does not distract from the narrative. It's a stylistic choice that adds to that obscurity.
Not only does the chemistry between actors seem incredibly strong here, but also between director and actors, and then again with sound design and the score. When a film decides to leave aspects of its story open, as a viewer you're often left with a slight sense of disappointment. But here that enigmatic ambivalence purely makes for a more rousing picture, and a sharper narrative.
Black Bear available from the 23rd of April on PVOD for £9.99