Nantucket Film Festival: Set in the beautiful-yet-foreboding foothills of Anaconda, Montana, Mickey Peck (Camila Morrone) is an obstinate teen who lives alone with her temperamental father, Hank (James Badge Dale). As she reaches the end of her high school years, Mickey yearns for her independence. She is tethered, however, to the responsibilities of taking care of her alcoholic, opioid-addicted father, an Iraq War veteran struggling with PTSD.
With her mother having passed away from cancer at a young age, Mickey is accountable for taking care of Hank when he is arrested or when he is passed out from consumption. These duties include hiding his firearms each night to avoid any catastrophes. Mickey also has the complication of being in a somewhat abusive relationship with Aron (Ben Rosefield), who seems to be a ticking time bomb of his own, and is very reminiscent of Hank. When a new boy (Calvin Demba) arrives in town, circumstances become even more convoluted for Mickey. As graduation day closes in, Mickey is faced with making the most challenging decision of her life at the most complicated time.
“Mickey and the Bear” is a slow-burn, coming-of-age tale that perfectly builds the tension to a simmering peak. While this is writer/director Annabelle Attanasio’s first feature, you would never know it, as she expertly crafts the film in a way that allows us to care about both sides of Mickey’s predicament. We sympathize for her relationship with the only family member she has, but we also hunger for the freedom she seeks. Attanasio works her own narrative to perfection. Her characters are fully developed, and it is clear that she understands them down to the nucleus of their souls. As a result you have an authentically human, well constructed, character-driven, treasure of a film to behold.
A star is born in Camila Morrone, who delivers one of the most memorable breakthrough performances in years. Her portrayal of a young woman with the weight of the world on her back is despondent yet relentless, and harkens back to similar star-making performances the likes of Jennifer Lawrence in “Winter’s Bone,” and Brie Larson in “Short Term 12.” You will undoubtedly find Morrone on my annual year-end Breakthrough Performers piece.
Morrone is paired equally with the great James Badge Dale, who reminds us why he is one of the best working actors today. He is the metaphorical bear that hunts Mickey, and plays the lost and broken father with the ferocity and substance we’ve come to expect from the talented thespian.
Admittedly, I would have missed “Mickey and the Bear” if it hadn’t been for Karen Peterson’s encouraging recommendation. I saw James Badge Dale in the cast and I was sold.
“Mickey and the Bear” is a complete gem of a film, nuanced and radiant. The final shot of the film left me breathless, and I am absolutely blown away by Attanasio and Morrone, each of whom’s art is bolstered by the other. I cannot wait to see what these ladies pull off next in their young careers.