Cert – 15, Run-time – 1 hour 45 minutes, Director – Lawrence Michael Levine
A filmmaker (Aubrey Plaza) finds herself looking for inspiration for her latest project in two similar cabin settings from two different perspectives
Write about what you know – it’s a phrase that appears to have repercussions on Aubrey Plaza’s Allison twice over in writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine’s latest. We initially see her taking residence in a quiet cabin in the woods, with couple of creatives Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and Blair (Sarah Gadon). Their life appears to be relatively calm, a family on the way, until Allison’s arrival. She begins to gradually chip away into their relationship, seemingly with the intention of working further between the pair. Taking sides back and forth in lengthy conversations about modern gender roles and sexual politics. It helps form a sort of psychosexual drama with tensions growing between the three, particularly with the uncertain aims and intentions of Plaza’s central figure.
Thanks to the longer conversations that line the film and the gradual development of the ideas that it brings up, or perhaps Allison forms for inspiration, there are plenty of points where the play-like events feel as if they’re happening in real-time. It adds an extra layer to the proceedings and allows for the drama to have a greater impact as it feels like it could go in any direction at any time, unable to stop as everything happens in the moment that you’re simply sat there watching like an invisible observer in the same setting. It’s such feelings that also line the second half of the film where the roles switch.
Allison finds herself the real-life wife of director Gabe. Starring in a film seemingly based on the events of the first half of the film. Blair plays opposite her in what appears to be the fictional Allison role, the real Allison suspects that her rival is having an affair. She gets increasingly drunk and details filming. Going from a “really hard to read” figure in the first half to a highly emotional cocktail of frustration – her husband simply telling her that this is why she shouldn’t have been in the film in the first place. This meta spin that knocks something down to reveal a two-way mirror, with the audience looking through the window on the unsuspecting set of feuding characters, their anger growing and impact the film crew around them.
Over time, in each scenario, the characters begin to overflow and break down. How they release their raging emotions differs, sometimes it’s sexually, others tears; often it’s through raising their voices to shout everyone else down. There are conflicting egos, some of which are presumed, warring throughout, growing as the battles continue and grow into a larger scale, and it’s certainly interesting to see it all play out. Plaza is in a very different role to what we’ve seen her play before. Steps away from her more comedic roles, and distant from the stalking psychosis of the title character in Ingrid Goes West (still her best role, although this comes close).
The rest of the cast also find themselves delivering good dual performances. The differences are clearly there, a handful are fairly subtle yet have a big impact on the shifts in style. Yet, although the characters change the tone and style remains consistent. This is a film that focuses on character and emotion, reaction instead of complete development. It makes for something compelling and detailed. Once you get used to the style and the course that appears to be taking, which after the first few minutes becomes clearer, especially as the limited selection of figures start to properly interact. From there the conflicting personalities, viewpoints, interactions, thoughts and depictions all boil over to create a highly dramatic representation of two different searches for inspiration amongst two very different creative mindsets.
After having space to lay itself out Black Bears picks up the pace with an effective play-like examination of character and response within a psychosexual search for creative inspiration and expressions.