29th Philadelphia Film Festival: ‘Black Bear’ Reviewed

by Rachel Bellwoar

Black Bear

Written and Directed by Lawrence Michael Levine

Any writer who’s ever responded to a writing prompt knows there are an infinite number of ways a story can play out. It doesn’t matter if they have the same starting point or use some of the same key ingredients, the final product won’t be the same.

Black Bear uses a writing prompt-like structure to divide the film into two chapters — even the title card is a lined sheet of paper with the title written in script. But the most profound thing about the film, though, is that Levine has the restraint to only to do this twice. Most films would’ve tried to stretch the device or gone for three chapters, but Black Bear is content with two. In the process, both halves are given more time to breathe. Chapter Two is basically a chance for the film to start over, yet there are all these parallels with Chapter One. Usually, when a story is divided into “chapters,” it’s a continuing storyline but that’s not necessarily what’s going on here.

In the first chapter Aubrey Plaza’s Allison is stuck in the role of a third wheel. It’s a classic, writing retreat in the woods scenario. Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott are the toxic couple Allison is staying with, who never miss an opportunity to call each other out. Chapter Two is a more meta situation. However you decide to interpret what actually happens in this movie, Plaza gets a chance to show off her range in a way she’s never been given before. Plaza is an actress whose talents sometimes get downplayed or passed off as her “playing herself,” but that’s not going to stand here. A career best performance.

The 29th Philadelphia Film Fesitval ran from October 23rd to November 2nd. Click here for the full program.

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