Wirrten & Directed by Annabelle Attanasio
The prospect of forging one’s path at the cost of leaving others behind is certainly far from an original narrative for the coming-of-age drama. For first-time writer & director Annabelle Attanasio however, what she achieves with Mickey and the Bear is a heart-wrenching, visceral piece on the pursuit of personal gratification, while attempting to balance perceived family obligation, as fiercely headstrong Michaela (Mickey) is the sole provider and carer for her addict, veteran father Hank.
A gifted young woman, Mickey is wholly a likeable, well-rounded character, without stripping an ounce of her humanity. She has flaws, she has emotions and her limits. Almost as if this coming-of-age narrative was written by a woman, for a woman. Camila Morrone’s method of characterisation is subdued, though sharing her on-screen father’s temper on occasion.
Mickey has pride, becoming aggressive at those taking pity or offering money. Desperately, she desires a further connection to her mother, to freedom, and finds this in the opportunity to study in a new state. What makes Attanasio’s film though is just how clear the affection between Mickey and Hank feels, in no small part with the writing, but everything is down to performance. Morrone establishes clear relationships with the men in the film, sharing genuine father-daughter chemistry with James Badge Dale, and light-hearted passionate moments with Calvin Demba’s Wyatt.
The only mediocre performance, down to the theme of the role rather than performance, is that of Mickey’s boyfriend Aron, played by Ben Rosenfield. His part in the narrative is clear, the representation of what her life will be, if Mickey stays. He’s a younger version of her father, encapsulating the rejection of potential, and a future of marriage, kids and ‘cleaning up his shit’. Aron is a pill-popper, disrespectful and physically driven, again though, this isn’t as simple as it may sound – Aron isn’t a vicious monster, he’s immature and discourteous. Symbolic conditioning of what the real beasts of Mickey’s life are, there’s only one instance of hunting bear in this film, and its deceptive placement in the story is a sublime piece of cinematic storytelling.
And, if the titular ‘bear’ allegory is lost on viewers, the film couldn’t be at fault, with Hank’s looming presence, at a moment’s notice aggressive, weaving throughout. With only one instance of hunting in the film, the beat of the wilderness is not the grizzly of the north, nor the taxidermy she works with, no, the beast of Mickey’s life is the man she shares a home with – and the underestimated experiences her father Hank has gone through.
The erroneous methods of black-and-white character development of Melodrama are vacant in Mickey and the Bear, instead, a focus is on the earthy tones of life. The palette is blurred, nothing vibrant and all the while coated in a dusty haze. As with its characters, this choice in lighting reflects that no-one is straight forward, there are no clear antagonists, even in the tactless boys who push Mickey for satisfaction, nor the father who could easily tip into an abusive scale. These are all fleshed out (excluding Aron) roles, with levels of understanding to their motivation, a key for audiences to fall behind a character.
Chiefly, Hank, Mickey’s father, and the true bear in her life. A veteran of Iraq, we do not require context to the trials Hank would face while serving. All the audience requires is the foreknowledge of his time on duty, his drug and substance dependency and the issues of struggling lucidity with growing delusion. He is playful, charismatic, and does genuinely have care for Mickey when he is sober. There is malice in our attitudes towards him, but more pity as he struggles with an intense addiction and displays uglier characteristics, namely virulent toxic masculinity when his life is saved by Mickey’s new love-interest Wyatt, a young black English student. No words of racism are uttered, but Dale’s performance and the film’s framing as to his expression communicate enough to the audience to show his discomfort.
Culminating in a distressing build to the film’s closing, the running technique of claustrophobic shots builds to a pay-off as the audience feels suffocated. A short scene, the costume design, performances and lighting are enough to lay out every connection to be made, without spelling it to the audience and ruining the impact. Attanasio’s canny writing ability here, as with Morrone and Dale’s performance, demonstrates that reason is never an acceptable excuse. We understand why Hank is like this, but the film never excuses his manner, and in the end, it forces Mickey’s decision on whether to support Hank, or to run.
Thankfully, in the interest of narrative tone and taste, these bleaker, though no less authentic moments stop short of gratuitous. They serve precisely the purpose intended, without drawing insulting lines for the audience. Meticulously well thought out and constructed, everything has layer and context, it’s a masterclass in understanding the human condition beneath the superficial, not only from a written level but from sturdy performances.
Nothing is overworked or suffers heavily from melodrama, a rare coming-of-age narrative for a woman, without the copious misunderstandings male directors impose. Everything feels natural, never fussy, but messy in a way only life can manage. Mickey and the Bear condenses such emotion into a ninety-minute runtime, without feeling too short or overarching, it’s a compacted, impressive piece of filmmaking which excels in its execution, performances and design.
Review originally pubished for In Their Own League: https://intheirownleague.com/2020/04/02/review-mickey-and-the-bear/