Mickey and the Bear (Movie Review)

One might hope Mickey and the Bear would be another animal adventure like Mia and the White Lion, or a Mickey Mouse/Winnie the Pooh crossover for Disney+. Instead, it is an allegory for a family drama due out in US theaters everywhere Friday, November 29, 2019 thanks to Utopia. 

Written and directed by Annabelle Attanasio (The Knick 2015, Frankie Keeps Talking 2016), the film is about the titular Mickey (Camila Morrone: Death Wish 2018, Never Goin’ Back 2018). She is trying to support her abrasive father Hank (James Badge Dale: The Departed 2006, World War Z 2013) in their home in Anaconda, Montana. He is a veteran suffering from opioid addiction, and grief over the passing of his wife. Mickey dreams of going away and living life on her own terms, but she feels obligated to care for her dad. Yet when his controlling behavior gets worse, she must decide which is worth more; duty or her well-being.

Mickey and the Bear still.

Prior to finding distribution, Mickey and the Bear has built up some buzz. In fact, it earned award nominations at the SXSW Film Festival and Seattle International Film Festival, while winning others at the Nantucket Film Festival and the Independent Film Festival of Boston. However, will it impress audiences as much as it did festival juries? It certainly has ‘festival film’ in it, like a hometown name in a stick of rock candy. If the intro had Anaconda looking more upmarket, or was stop-motion with a kitschier, schoolkid scribble font, it might have bowled more people over. It does have ironically throwback/modern combo music and a credits font straight from the 1970s, so that must have given it a few nods.

That aside, it is not trying to be 2004’s Napoleon Dynamite or 2017’s Krystal. Mickey may have dreams, but she cannot afford to be starry-eyed about it. She does not have the time for it when she is spinning so many plates – looking after her dad, handling her job, dealing with her not-so-charming boyfriend Aron (Ben Rosenfield: Irrational Man 2015, 6 Years 2015), etc. Often to little thanks, if any at all, and in a town that saw its best days when the West was still Wild.

It also helps that the characters feel genuine. It is a sort of balance, in that the character swing between living up to and defying expectations and showing the reasons why. Hank and Aron would not be out of place in an episode of South Park, yet the film does show there is blood in their veins. Hank’s condition and strands of affection are convincing enough to split the audience as much as Mickey on whether she should stay or not. Likewise, Mickey is no enduring angel – she can be crass, and has no problem letting off steam.

Mickey and the Bear still.

Yet it is hard to blame her for being frustrated either. Hank and Aron’s attitudes, not to mention classmate Wyatt (Calvin Demba: Kingsmen: The Golden Circle 2017), are very tempting reasons to leave everything behind. It just is not the obvious choice for success, as either side provides bundles of questions. What will happen to Hank if she leaves? What will happen to her or her love life if she does not? It makes for effectively engaging drama.

As do the performances. Demba and Rosenfield also do well too, bringing symbolic roles to life – Demba’s British (thus international) appeal butting heads with local sensitivities. Though the top performances would have to go to both title roles. Dale’s Hank comes off as funny and even sweet enough to support at times, while coarse and volatile enough to be dangerous. Almost like a bear! Likewise, Morrone spins almost as many plates as her character, swinging along the emotional spectrum with each character interaction, and coming off as authentic with each one.

Mickey and the Bear is technically sound too, with some nice direction playing up the mood for its scenes. The bar dance’s visuals are a touch of sweetness in an otherwise tense film. Or how it uses a few cuts to suggest a later encounter with Mickey and Aron, saying a lot with a little. No film is perfect, but one’s mileage may vary with its flaws. The soundtrack is fine with a few tracks and minimalist tones, yet others are like tinfoil on a fresh filling. The intro sounds like Jewel discovered trap music and made the world pay for it.

Mickey and the Bear still.

Ultimately, that is a small price to pay for a powerful film. Once Mickey and the Bear gets going, it keeps going at a good pace. The acting is strong and believable, and the writing is just as solid and tight as it swings between sweetness and sourness. One does not need to have looked up Truffaut or Todorov to enjoy this film, nor to have seen its plaudits. Just an interest in seeking out good domestic dramas, because this is one of the best. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives this film 4.5 out of 5 stars.


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