Black Bear, written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine, had a lot of promise, yet landed with a thud. Let’s just say it’s a movie about a screenwriter full of ideas.
The lead is one of my favorite comedic actresses Aubrey Plaza (my faves: Ingrid Goes West &An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn). And while she is great here, I did not find her character sympathetic enough to care about, she was just another histrionic female who I would not want to know. Ditto with actress Sarah Gadon, super acting, but another broad I’d steer clear of in real life.
The male of the triangle, actor Christopher Abbott who could be a long lost brother of Shia LeBouef, is terrific as the sadistic and narcissistic husband and boyfriend, but at the risk of sounding redundant, not someone I want to know. Hence, lack of plot plus unlikable characters equals an annoying movie.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was also annoying, but only until I settled in and quit fixating on Viola’s lip syncing and the obvious playwright’s (August Wilson’s original, screenplay by Ruben Santiago-Hudson) techniques of a one room hostage situation where we are stuck in a room with people arguing. Once I got past those items, I marveled in Chadwick Boseman’s performance. Not being hip to Black Panther (just not a super hero movie fan), I was amazed at the depth of his acting. He BECAME his trumpet playing character, not overly acted (as I found the two record execs to be-Jeremy Shamos and Jonny Coyne). Ma’s love interest, actress Taylour Paige, also seemed rather overblown, but strategic in standing out in an ensemble as formidable as Davis and Boseman. Viola Davis is an acting force, I genuflect to her power. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is definitely worth seeing, just be ready to don your Broadway thespian patience cap.
I read the criticisms of the movie version of Fences (‘too confined and stagey”) and as a result, didn’t go for a time. I’ve taught the play and was obviously moved by the story, with an added sentimental attachment to the physical book (which is now on the shelf at Bloomfield Central School) after seeing David Gray at my hotel pool in Dayton Ohio and having nothing else for him to sign.
But the movie was far better than the shallow reviewers revealed. I was physically moved by the acting, so much so, it was difficult to return to the real world and my gala art walk shift at the bookstore. Denzel Washington had a right to scowl at the Oscars upon hearing Casey’s name read. I really think they should have hack sawed the trophy in half and had an unprecedented tie. Why not? It would have made Warren Beatty look better (aside, poor guy, I love Warren). Denzel was Troy Maxson, just as other great actors (Christian Bale “The Fighter” and whatever real life kook he played in “Big Short”/aforementioned Casey Afleck in Manchester/JK Simmons in Whiplash). He reminds everyone of the universal father figure, equally afraid to be surpassed by his son and equally afraid of the opposite, a non-evolutionary expansion.
And what human words can actually explain the force of Viola Davis????????????? She deserved an Academy Award for her acceptance speech alone!!!! She truly gets what it means to come from poverty and to be blessed to have ridden on the backs of those with far less choices. I, too, had a similar epiphany just the other day on one of my lengthy bridge walks: my mother married my dad to get out of the house! It was an escape from the insanity of 8 unsupervised kids as my grandparents eeked out a small town existence.
Movies that help you see your past and your future while telling a compelling story are truly magical. Denzel obviously, having portrayed Troy on Broadway, felt the power and universality of August Wilson’s play and wanted to give it permanence on film. My next internet search is a hope to find that he won the Tony for it at least, as he is one of the finest, if not the finest, actors of our time.
PS Thank you Jesus, Denzel won a Tony for Fences in 2010.