Black Bear

Black Bear ★★★★

What is art worth? What is making art worth? Artists give and give looking for that bead of catharsis, hoping it will help. It does. Sometimes. For a minute. 

Aubrey Plaza is phenomenal in this. Just utterly incredible in a role that demands performances within performances; one informing another in layers that psychologically intermix in subtle, strange, brutal ways. There are many films (curiously, largely by men) about women struggling to hold themselves together as their demons and drives for creative release war for their mouths and bodies; Plaza somehow delivers hysterics that feel true, not performed. “Woman Under the Influence” is a masterpiece and the recent “Her Smell” is audacious and fascinating but both films feel self-aware in a way that “Black Bear” does not, which is doubly remarkable as it is literally about filmmaking and what the camera demands of its subjects. 

I like “Always Shine” a whole lot ( but “Black Bear” is a significant step forward for Lawrence Michael Levine and Sophia Takal. An overwhelming and devastating film that somehow transforms Lynchian devices—particularly “Mullholland Drive”—into something accessible and immediately understandable. This isn’t a Lynch film; it has little of that landmark’s metaphysical mystery to it. But it is also a ruthless examination of the dream factory’s abuse of art, and of the raw callousness of art itself. It hurts. 

Also it’s distractingly beautiful and, as with “Always Shine,” the score and sound design are inventive and hypnotic.

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