(director/writer: Lawrence Michael Levine; cinematographer: Robert Leitzell; editor: Matthew L. Weiss; music: Bryan Scary /Giulio Carmassi; cast: Sarah Gadon (Blair), Aubrey Plaza (Allison), Christopher Abbott (Gabe), Lindsay Burdge (Maude), Alexander Koch (Mike), Paola Lazaro (Cahya), Shannon O’Neill (Simone), Jennifer Kim (Nora); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Sophia Takal /Jai Khanna / Marina Grasic /Julie Christeas /Richard J Bosner /Jonathan Blitstein; Tandem Pictures; 2020)

“A razor-sharp and truly unique indie art-house mind-bender on toxic relationships.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It was filmed at the Adirondack Mountains in Long Lake, New York.

Lawrence Michael Levine (“Territory”/”Wild Canaries”) directs and writes a razor-sharp and truly unique indie art-house mind-bender on toxic relationships. The film is divided into two loosely related chapters, with the appearance in the second chapter of a black bear poking around in the wooded area near the cabin.

The mind-playing asshole musician Gabe (Christopher Abbott) and the two months pregnant Blair (Sarah Gadon) are a mismatched, bickering couple living in a remote luxurious Adirondacks lake house, where the conflicted former actress and unknown indie filmmaker Allison (Aubrey Plaza) rents a room so she can find inspiration to kick-start her new career.

In the first chapter long conversations among the threesome takes place, as the characters reveal their likes and dislikes to each other in snappy retorts. A languid mood is set, indicating their unrest.

In the second chapter, the three sort of reverse roles and try to connect while sniping at each other. The dynamics turns weird, as they try to ascertain what they can expect from others. The heady talk brings up different paths each could take if they choose to opt for great changes in their lives.

We see things mainly through the eyes of the vulnerable and hurt filmmaker, Allison, who questions her well-being and what she strives for and how she relates to others (she hates compliments). The peaceful outward setting in the first part turns in the second part into an inner nightmare.

It’s a riveting experimental conceit that’s well-written, smart and offers a witty, subliminal comical drama but no clear answers to the murky questions it raises about the creative process (at least that’s what I think this obtuse pic is about). To its credit, it’s never dull or without an artist’s viewpoint of madness being a necessity for genius.

Aubrey Plaza and Christopher Abbott appear in
      Black Bear by Lawrence Michael Levine, an official selection of
      the NEXT program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of
      Sundance Institute | photo by Rob Leitzell.All photos are
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      or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must
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REVIEWED ON 1/28/2020  GRADE: A-