A bevy of animals reside in Annabelle Attanasio’s debut feature. Anaconda, Montana is the setting. The high school’s sports team has a copperhead in its logo. Some dedicated close-ups of taxidermied fauna. And, of course, don’t forget the duo that makes up the title — Mickey and the Bear.
“Mickey” here is the shortened and preferred reference to Michaela Peck (Camila Morrone), someone who — in animal form — is no mouse and all pronghorn-slash-panther, if the speed in which she swings her sardonic wit or, when necessary, sharp locution is any indication. Age-wise, she is all prepped to face the wilderness alone: Her 18th birthday just passed; hopefully the San Diego university she had applied to will have her; and that charming, British classmate she locked eyes with — Wyatt (Calvin Demba) — seems like an ideal partner for long-term interactions. But it’s hard for Mickey to leave since no one else will be able to look after her father Hank (James Badge Dale), an Iraq War veteran with PTSD, an oxy addiction and a game console to pass the time (is that Far Cry being played?). You guessed it, he is the Bear of the story, the papa who prevents his child from seeing everything beyond Anaconda.
The script, also from Attanasio, demands from the actress playing Mickey to be someone who can be headstrong and human. Morrone, wonderfully, is up to the task, as her performance fuels the film with the fervor of a compelling coming-of-ager and makes tangible the burdens of being lives that the system overlooked. We can relate to Mickey’s desire to be way more mobile than the animals she stuffed (she works as a taxidermist to save up for that California trip) as much as her desire to keep Hank in his best state possible (he is the only parent left). Comparing to other teens in her orbit, Mickey wouldn’t be perceived as the go-to hangout pal or the “it” girl folks have to befriend, though that is because she is efficient rather than different. And should said efficiency introduces an upsetting consequence, she might become troubled or just reveal a hint of it. Whatever state of mind Mickey is in, Morrone nails it in her portrayal.
But don’t discount Morrone’s main scene partner Dale either. It is a most affecting turn from the actor: Hank is too cozy with his animalistic self, but he exudes the aura of a soul — scarred, of course — that you might brush shoulders with some day. Like Mickey, we too will find a cause to assist Hank despite knowing full well we might get clawed at at the end of it all. On his own, Dale’s good. As Mickey’s foil, he’s great. Although Attanasio does ask Dale to revisit villainous territory (that his presence would provide a shortcut to) in the third act, she also surprises by showing us that he can give nuance to his wicked behavior.
Perhaps as a reflection of the film’s affinity to groundedness, Attanasio would give certain semi-crucial plot strands no definite conclusion. While this might leave viewers in suspension, it also provides an opening for them to internalize the abrupt — and depressing — cut as something life would have up its sleeve. It will also make them notice the main players more, especially Morrone who wholly deserves to see her career take flight after such a sensitive outing in this affecting production.