“A coming of age film for girls who had to grow up too fast.”
In a country that claims to care so much for its war veterans, there are so few resources dedicated to their mental health and recovery, not to mention their economic status. Mickey Peck (Camila Marrone), the daughter and caretaker of Hank (James Badge Dale), an addict who suffers from PTSD from his time in the Iraq war, knows this better than anyone. The two share a small trailer in Anaconda, Montana, a cramped space in a cramped town where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Mickey lives in the shadow of her dead mother, Vanessa, whom Hank often mixes her up with during his episodes. Other than that, she is your average, everyday teenager: she dreams of going off to college, goes to work, gossips with her friend, fights (and makes up) with her bum boyfriend Aron (Ben Rosenfield), and has a crush on the new foreign exchange student Wyatt (Calvin Demba). The film checks all the boxes of a tried and true coming of age film: the film takes place on Mickey’s eighteenth birthday, she wistfully rides her bike at multiple points, she dreams of leaving her small town, there’s romantic tensions; however, these are by no means Mickey and the Bear’s most interesting characteristics.
The brilliance of Mickey and the Bear lies in the fact that it quietly bears witness to the ways in which the crushing responsibility of taking care of a sick loved one can permeate through these ordinary aspects of life. Hank takes her money and is quick to chase away anyone who might lead Mickey away from him. Hank’s complete dependence on Mickey leaves her utterly alone. Local psychiatrist Leslee Watkins (Rebecca Henderson) tries her best to help, but there is very little she can do for a man who, quite frankly, is not interested in getting better.
Mickey’s eighteenth birthday marks a difficult crossroads for her; becoming an adult means she now has the agency to make her own choices about what her future might look like. Hank wants her to never leave him, and often gaslights her into staying. Aron, who signifies another path, wants her to marry him and have his children. But what does Mickey want for herself? The answer is unclear to her and to the audience, as it is in life. Although cooking Hank’s meals, doing his laundry, bailing him out of jail, and doing everything for him does not make Mickey happy, leaving him is not the easy way out by any means.
Although their relationship is one sided and often fraught with tension, it is also a loving one. Hank’s behavior is often monstrous, but he is not a monster; he is a weak man suffering from severe trauma and addiction without the money or tools that recovery requires, and the filmmaker recognizes this. It would be much easier to place Mickey and her father in the categories of “good” and “evil,” but she avoids this, instead opting for more complex characterization. At times, the narrative threads of Hank and Mickey’s relationship are overshadowed by the other, less affecting parts of the story, which causes the film to feel unfocused.
Camila Marrone is the perfect actor to tell this story because she is deftly able to portray Mickey’s determined nature while also never losing sight of her vulnerability. Writer/Director Annabelle Attanasio’s multi-dimensional script calls for a delicate kind of subtlety, but Marrone makes it look effortless. This role plus her amusing yet whip smart performance as Jessie in Augustine Frizzell’s buddy comedy Never Goin’ Back last year makes her one to watch out for.
The other star worth mentioning is the location of Anaconda itself. Each place the camera takes us, such as the diner, the woods, the lake, or the taxidermy shop where Mickey works, are so lovingly photographed that Anaconda itself becomes an important character. Generally, I find it difficult to describe small towns as breathtaking, but the lush greens and baby blues of Anaconda proved me wrong. To what degree can we separate ourselves from our hometowns, or our nostalgia for them, which have shaped us so much?
Mickey and the Bear is less of a typical coming of age film and more of a coming of age film for girls who had to grow up too fast due to carrying the heavy weight of a painful responsibility that is way outside of their control.
Dir: Annabelle Attanasio
Prod: Anja Murmann, Jeri Rafter, Sabine Schenk, Lizzie Shapiro, Taylor Shung
Cast: Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Ben Rosenfield, Calvin Demba, Rebecca Henderson
Available at: Limited NY and LA release.