Stories like Mickey and the Bear have appeared as sobering reminders for the high-minded art film crowd that we are swiftly becoming two Americas.
The American Story circa 2019 is one of sadness. It’s one of towns time forgot, one of unspoken mental illness, drug addiction. As the country continues to rot from the inside out, more stories like Mickey and the Bear have appeared, sobering reminders for the high-minded art film crowd that we are swiftly becoming two Americas. Couched in luxury theaters and eating gourmet popcorn, we couldn’t be farther away from Anaconda, Montana, the beautiful and impoverished town where writer-director Annabelle Attanasio sets her tale.
We first meet the Mickey (Camila Morrone) of the title as she wakes in her trailer. Light and water leak in from the hole in the roof above the young woman, who is about to graduate high school and faces an uncertain future. But first she must go down to the police station and recover her father, Hank, (James Badge Dale), a former marine suffering from PTSD and a mean oxycodone addiction. The other aspects of Mickey’s life are just as bleak. Her mother died from cancer a few years ago and her boyfriend, Aron (Ben Rosenfield), isn’t much better than her father. In fact, Aron swallows the last of Hank’s pills one morning, setting off a downward spiral that puts Mickey in danger.
Mickey does have dreams, despite spending more time caring for her father than attending school. She helps make ends meet by working in a local taxidermy shop while balancing school and dealing with Hank’s frequent outbursts. There is hope, though. Mickey has her sights set on a college in California and a new boy at the school seems interested in her.
Mickey and the Bear pulls no punches when it comes to Mickey’s relationship with Hank. Despite claiming he doesn’t care if his daughter leaves him, Hank is vindictive and scary. Throughout the film we more or less watch him rob Mickey of all her friends, money and dreams. He alternates from being infantile and needy to outright terrifying. This is not a movie where Hank suddenly recognizes the errors of his ways or Mickey stands her ground and rides off into the sunset. This is an American story without a fairy tale ending.
So why watch Mickey and the Bear? Is she destined to end up married to a guy just like her father? Attanasio ekes out strong performances from both of her stars, making this a moving character drama. While some of the side characters feel poorly developed, especially the new boy who takes a shine to Mickey, Attanasio works to subvert expectations of a happy ending for her characters. Mickey may or may not get out, but by the end of the film she is irrevocably scarred, a stand-in for the many dying towns in America blinkering on the precipice of annihilation.