SXSW 2019: Mickey and the Bear
Writer-director Annabelle Attanasio’s debut feature film, Mickey and the Bear, has that endearing rough quality that comes with many indie films. Some of the dialogue is stilited and the run-and-gun approach shows, but what stands out is the spark between its two leads, Camila Morrone and James Badge Dale, who play the daughter-father pair Mickey and Hank.
The film takes place in Anaconda, Montana, a rural community populated with folks either satisfied with their small town life or eager to leave. Mickey lives in trailer with her veteran father Hank, as essentially his caretaker; helping him refill his meds which fuels his opioid addiction, while also bailing him out of jail after his drunken endeavours. She turns eighteen and sets her sights on her future. Will she settle for a life taking care of her father or will she pursue her dreams and head to the west coast to go to school? Mickey and the Bear boils down to a coming-of-age story, with the perfect amount of emotional weight behind the decisions made by its lead. Morrone is perfectly cast in the role and is more than adept to handle what the film requires of her.
Morrone should have broken out huge after last year’s highly enjoyable Never Goin' Back, and if there’s any justice in the world, she’s hit it big with Mickey and the Bear. She’s yet another young talent that can seemingly do it all. Going from slapstick-level comedy in Never Goin’ Back to a powerful dramatic performance in Mickey and the Bear where her magnetism is a huge draw. And she doesn’t carry the film by herself.
James Badge Dale is doing remarkable work as a character actor of late. When he’s not playing interesting supporting characters, he’s leading interesting indies like The Standoff at Sparrow Creek. In Mickey and the Bear, Dale inhabits the role of Hanks, a rundown, seen-far-too-much veteran, who’s struggling with addiction and his own demons. It’s a lot to put on one actor, and the beauty of the script is that it doesn’t dive into Hank’s past. All we know is he was in battle and is fighting with PTSD; nightmares don’t let him rest peacefully, which is why he self-medicates. On top of that, he’s Mickey’s only parental figure; Mickey’s mother Vanessa passed away a few years ago, which leaves a massive shadow over the events of the film. Hank is a tragic figure and Attanasio paints him as a sympathetic foil to Mickey. There’s clearly love there between Mickey and Hank, but it’s Hank who is holding Mickey back from venturing out into the world as a an adult by herself.
With the drama surrounding her father and her future college plans, the film also adds in a romantic subplot, with Mickey in a love triangle between her current high school boyfriend and the new kid in town. It’s a welcome touch, especially with how intimately Attanasio handles each relationship. There are all-too-familiar concepts at work within the film in true coming-of-age fashion, but it’s an indie that features two extraordinary performances and expressive directorial flourishes from debut director Attanasio. Mickey and the Bear manages to capture your attention, and makes you care for Mickey herself, from the first frame to its breaktaking last.