Review by James Lindorf
It’s April in Anaconda, Montana. Graduation and a world of possibilities are just around the corner for this year’s senior class…well, most of them anyway. Headstrong teenager Mickey Peck (Camila Morrone) is doing what she can to keep Hank, her single, wounded veteran father (James Badge Dale) afloat. Opioid and alcohol addiction, PTSD, unpredictable mood swings, and grief over the loss of his wife have left Hank a shell of the man he used to be. Mickey fantasizes about going to college on the west coast while spending her days going to school, working at a taxidermy store, and being a single mother to her ailing father. When Hank begins to spiral out of control, Mickey must decide between familial obligation and personal fulfillment. Mickey and the Bear is the directorial debut of actress Annabelle Attanasio (Bull) and costars Calvin Demba (Kingsman: The Golden Circle), Ben Rosenfield (Boardwalk Empire), and Rebecca Henderson (Russian Doll). Mickey will make her choice first in NY on November 13th, then in LA on November 22nd, and nationwide on November 29th.
The movie covers a brief period in the spring of Mickey’s senior year of high school. She has a job and a boyfriend, like lots of other kids. What sets her apart is having a mother that died of cancer an unknown amount of time ago, and a father incapable of taking care of himself. Mickey does most of the cooking and cleaning; she is the only one with a job and will sneak money into her dad’s wallet so he can feel like he is treating her at times. Her boyfriend, Aron, couldn’t be happier. After his dad gave him a promotion, Aron is making five figures and planning their life together. Tactlessly, his preoccupation with sex and the future is pushing Mickey away. Aron should be a little more cautious because Wyatt, the new kid in town, with his good looks and British accent, has his sights set on Mickey. After their meet-cute, Mickey and Wyatt become fast friends, discussing their dreams of attending college in California and getting away from family drama. Everything Mickey has been working for and dreaming of is put in jeopardy when Hank begins to lose control in a way she’s never seen before. The film’s conclusion leaves no doubt as to whether she should choose family and small-town life or college and the unknown.
Though she’s not new to Hollywood, this is the first time that Camila Morrone has gotten to play the leading lady in a film. She is easily in 95% of the film, as the central character, and does not disappoint in a single scene. Her role is a complex one that gives her just the briefest moments for fun, joy, or hope. Even in those moments, disbelief and sadness are just below the surface. The only time Mickey may be delighted is when she is with Wyatt, whose very presence makes her imagine a world outside of Anaconda. Like Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) or Ellen Page (Juno), Camila is primed for a break out after her stellar performance.
A little more well-known, but giving an equally powerful performance, is James Badge Dale (The Departed). Dale has to oscillate from a shadow of the good father to the broken man he has become, sometimes in the same scene. You can see the chemistry between James and Camila during moments when Hank is his old self. Whether he is teasing her about going out with her boyfriend or giving her a special pocketknife, the evidence of their bond and love for each other can be felt, making the good times more depressing than the bad.
Mickey and the Bear premiered to rave reviews at this year’s SXSW Film Festival and can’t be regarded as anything but a strong debut for Attanasio as both the film’s writer and director. The main task for a director is to make consistent decisions that lead to a unified vision for the film. The 25-year-old director was able to deliver that in spades, after spending her college years writing and polishing the script. The time and dedication gave her an intense familiarity with the characters and their story, making it easier to make decisions. There are a couple of moments in the script that take things too far. The ending, and Hank’s interactions with Wyatt are beyond the pale when compared to the rest of the movie. It feels like Attanasio was getting to the end of the script, and Hank was too likable, too pitiful, and she wanted to make him despicable without rewriting the whole character. It is the biggest misstep she made in either of her roles in creating Mikey and the Bear. Like Jordan Peele proved when he spent the better part of a decade crafting Get Out, combining talent and time is fertile ground for success. Hopefully, her sophomore effort continues her growth as a writer and director, and maybe one day, Attanasio will be considered one of the best working directors as well.
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