We’ve been conditioned to expect the expected when it comes to Hollywood. The mindless cycles of Summer Blockbuster season, continuous reboots and never-ending sequels has dried up the well of creativity on a mainstream level. But every now and again, we’re gifted a unique piece of storytelling that circumvents narrative norms and boldly makes its claims with unrestrained originality. Lawrence Michael Levine has accomplished this rare feat and so much more with his fascinating new effort, Black Bear.
Aubrey Plaza stars as Allison, an actress-turned-director struggling to write her next film. She decides to seclude herself around nature at Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair’s (Sarah Gadon) rural retreat in a lakehouse buried deep in the woods. Allison tries using the soon-to-be expecting couple as a source of inspiration for her next great idea, but keeps hitting walls in her creative journey.
Black Bear is unlike anything you’ve ever seen. It’s a film delivered in stories or chapters that, on the surface, form a dizzying narrative for the audience to comprehend. However, when you peel back the layers of Lawrence Michael Levine’s daring attempt, you’ll find a grossly self-aware and brilliant mechanism of storytelling. The film, at its core, is a trip through the creative process and the title character of the “Black Bear” being symbolic of a writer “hitting the wall” with an idea. These stories-within-a-story are simply manifestations of Allison, each chapter of which is intended to serve its own narrative purpose. Allison’s personal opinions of masculinity, life on a film set, and the artistic quest for greatness all unmask themselves through the different sections of Black Bear. When pieced together on face value, these stories seem disjointed, unrelated and mostly a pretentious conjunction of jargon. However, in the bigger picture of Levine’s subtle intention, Black Bear serves as a vessel for creative expression where the film circles through elements of comedy, drama and horror en route to a superbly rare and gratifying experience. Aubrey Plaza delivers a career best performance, but her co-stars Christopher Abbott and Sarah Gadon stand toe-to-toe with her onscreen excellence. Lawrence Michael Levine refuses to conform to the traditional methods of storytelling, and history has proven that society often tries to push back against the new and the different. But without the courageous few who dare to be unique and who aspire to transcend the accepted norm, walls would never be broken. And while Black Bear may never receive the adoration and attention it so truly deserves, it should forever stand as a testament to those who wish to break barriers.