Aubrey Plaza

Black Bear

30/04/21

Curzon Home Cinema

Of course, my primary purpose here is to review Black Bear. But, before I do, let’s take a little look at Curzon Home Cinema. Why, I’d like to know, are there still no subtitles available for English language films on this platform? I try my best, where possible, to support indie endeavours over the major franchises, but this lack of accessibility is becoming something of a deal breaker. I can watch a film without subtitles; I just prefer not to. There are many, many people who simply can’t. Come on, Curzon. This needs to be resolved.

And so to Black Bear, sadly one of the most disappointing films I’ve seen in a while. It’s not half as clever as it keeps telling us it is; even the fabulous Aubrey Plaza can’t save this one for me.

Be warned: there are spoilers ahead.

There’s a remote house by a lake. It’s owned by a couple, Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon), who market it as a retreat for creative people. Blair is pregnant. Gabe is a failed musician. Along comes Allison (Plaza), a film-maker. She’s here to write, but spends most of her time sitting staring at the lake dressed in a red swimming costume. They’re all horrible. Blair and Allison become jealous rivals on sight. Gabe is a Lawrence Fox type, who thinks he’s being edgy by saying that feminism is the cause of society’s collapse. Blair says she’s a feminist, shrieks for a while and then cries. Allison sits dead-eyed, agrees with Gabe, then says she’s only joking. And fucks him.

I don’t know what writer/director Lawrence Michael Levine is trying to say here. It’s very muddled. Of course, characters don’t speak their author’s thoughts, but Gabe is given a suspiciously long time to expound his anti-feminist views in excruciating detail.

And then we have a switcheroo, sort of, except nothing really changes. Now we see that they are all making a film: Gabe is the director, Allison and Blair are actors. But instead of Blair and Gabe being a pair, it’s Allison and Gabe. But Allison and Blair are still jealous of each other, because… why? Because of Gabe? Because they’re two women in the same house and that’s just what happens? It’s a curiously old-fashioned view of female relationships.

The bear rustles in the undergrowth, a big unsubtle metaphor. When we see him, just twice, he looks passive, almost cuddly.

There are moments here that glimmer with promise. The deliciously uncomfortable conversation in the first act, where Gabe and Blair undermine everything each other says. The frantic chaos of the film set: the prompt (Jennifer Kim) who can’t find her page; the runner (Paola Làzaro) who’s got the runs.

But there’s a cruelty at the heart of this story that just doesn’t sit well, a mean-spiritedness that seems to pervade everything. The performances are flawless. But the story is a mixed-up mess.

2.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Ingrid Goes West

19/11/17

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a young woman with serious issues. Desperately lonely and hopelessly addicted to social media, she feels decidedly miffed when one of her ‘online friends’ has the temerity to get married without bothering to invite her. Most of us would shrug this off, but not Ingrid – she turns up at the wedding reception and treats the bride to a faceful of Mace. Needless to say, it doesn’t go down at all well.

After paying the price for her transgressions, Ingrid heads home to an empty house. We learn that her sick mother has recently passed away after a long illness, that Ingrid has spent the last few years caring for her, and that Mom has left her only daughter a considerable sum of money in her will. Leafing through a magazine one day, Ingrid chances upon an article about  the woman who will become her latest obsession. Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen) is an Instagram ‘influencer’ who appears to be living the perfect boho lifestyle in sunny Los Angeles, with her artist boyfriend, Ezra (Wyatt Russell), and who can’t seem to smash an avocado without photographing it and adding a hashtag. For Ingrid, it’s love at first click – so she makes a cash withdrawal from the bank, buys a plane ticket and heads out to LA, where she rents an apartment from Batman-obsessed wannabe screenwriter, Dan (O’Shea Jackson Jnr). Once settled in she sets about inveigling her way into Taylor’s world, frequenting all the places that feature in her online posts. Pretty soon, she is moving in Taylor’s exalted circles and ingratiating herself with her new ‘friends’ at every opportunity… but will this be enough to satisfy her longing for acceptance?

Ingrid Goes West is a prescient tale, skillfully told, and Plaza offers a powerful performance in the lead role, making us care about Ingrid at every step, no matter how heinous her actions. Olsen is good too, as the vain and exceedingly shallow Taylor – but then, nearly everyone here (apart from the exceedingly sweet-natured Dan) is as shallow as a kiddies’ paddling pool. I particularly like the examples we are shown of Ezra’s ‘art’, which consists of a single word printed onto a ‘found’ image (i.e. nicked from other photographers). Everything in this world, it transpires, is fake.

The script, co-written by director Matt Spicer, gleefully eviscerates the world of the online glitterati, people so obsessed with their own style that they seem to have lost their humanity. In less assured hands, this could so easily have been a dark and miserable descent into despair, but that sparkling script – and an unexpectedly upbeat conclusion – actually makes this a must-watch.

#DontMissIt!

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney