Mickey and the Bear (2019) ☆☆☆(3/4): As she struggles to live with her dad

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There is a vivid, palpable sense of frustration and exasperation in “Mickey and the Bear”, a small but intimate drama film about an adolescent girl who has been stuck in a small town in Montana. Through a series of episodic moments, the movie gradually lets us emphasize with its heroine’s conflicted situation, and we eventually come to understand how much she wants a better life of her own – and how much she is bound to a person she loves a lot despite those many emotional damages upon her.

At the beginning, the movie observes another usual day of Mickey Peck (Camila Morrone), a high school girl who has lived alone with her widower father Hank (James Badge Dale) in a small residence located outside Anaconda, Montana. When she wakes up to find that her father is not in their home, she is not so surprised at all, and she is soon visited by the town sheriff, who comes to tell her that her father had another rough night. When she later visits the police station for taking her father to their home, she is not particularly mad, and we come to sense that Hank caused many similar troubles before.

We gradually gather how hard and difficult Mickey and her father’s situation has been. As an Iraq War veteran, Hank has received some medical help, but it is evident that he is still struggling with physical problems as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and he frequently attempts to numb his pain and frustration through alcohol. Mickey has certainly tolerated her father a lot as a caring and dutiful daughter, and her father seems to appreciate that at times, but she cannot help but feel helpless and frustrated from time to time, while also hoping for getting away from her small town someday. As a matter of fact, she has been waiting to be allowed to enrolled in a city college in California after her upcoming high school graduation, though she has not saved enough money for that yet as her unemployed father often demands money for drinking.

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In addition, Mickey has currently been in a relationship with a boy named Aaron (Ben Rosenfield). They have been quite close to each other as reflected by one private scene between them, and Aaron wants to move their relationship onto the next step, but Mickey is not particularly willing to do that. At one point early in the film, Aaron gives her a certain precious present, and she shows him some gratification, but she soon sells it for getting the extra cash in addition to what she routinely earns from her part-time job at a taxidermy shop.

On one day, Mickey happens to encounter Wyatt (Calvin Demba), a British boy who was recently transferred to her high school. Mickey tells him in advance that she has a boyfriend, but, what do you know, they come to spend more time with each other, and Mickey is more attracted to Wyatt after an unpleasant incident between her and Aaron during one evening.

Meanwhile, Hank becomes more erratic and aggressive than usual, and that surely troubles Mickey a lot. She goes to a local clinic for requesting more medical help for her father, but there is not really nothing she can do, and she only gets some sympathy and compassion from a doctor assigned to her father’s case, who genuinely cares about Mickey and her situation while firmly sticking to the regulations of her system. As subsequently talking more with Mickey, the doctor sees that Mickey really needs to be helped, and she advises Mickey that she may soon face her limit because her father’s mental and physical status will get worse day by day no matter how much she tries.

Nevertheless, Mickey finds herself still emotionally stuck with her father. When she is later notified that she is allowed to enroll in that city college in California, she is certainly happy and excited, but then she reminds again of how much her father depends on her, and her father drinks more frequently than before with more troubles to be handled by her. When he suggests that they should have a hunting time along with Wyatt, Mickey is naturally concerned about what may happen, and we are not so surprised by the following outcome.

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As slowly rolling from one small moment to another, the screenplay by director/writer Annabelle Attanasio steadily accumulates the emotional tension around Mickey and her father, and there eventually comes a dramatic moment when Mickey finally decides that enough is enough after finding what her father has been doing behind her back. As cinematographer Conor Murphy’s camera calmly watches them from its static position, the mood becomes tense word by word, and that accordingly culminates to what can be described as an irreversible point for the relationship between Mickey and her father.

And it certainly helps that the movie is carried well by its two lead performers. While James Badge Dale, a veteran character actor who has diligently impressed us since his notable supporting turns in “Shame” (2011) and “Flight” (2012), is dependable as usual in his nuanced performance which conveys to us well his character’s troubled state of mine, newcomer Camila Morrone is terrific in her unadorned performance while ably complementing Dale in their scenes, and a few other main cast members in the film including Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield, and Rebecca Henderson are also solid in their respective roles.

On the whole, “Mickey and the Bear” is engaging to watch for its thoughtful storytelling as well as the two wonderful lead performances at its center, and it surely shows that Attanasio, who previously made several short films before making this feature film debut of hers, is another interesting new filmmaker to watch. Considering that it did not receive much attention when it was released in US in last year, the movie surely deserves some attention, and I will certainly be interested in watching what may come next from Attanasio.

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