( Nytimes) – Set in Anaconda, Montana, Annabelle Attanasio’s film follows a young woman burdened with caring for a parent with PTSD.
The magnificent landscapes of the Anaconda mountain range in Montana present a pointed contrast to the hardscrabble mobile homes and their inhabitants in the eponymous city below.
“Mickey and the Bear,” a sturdy, watchable character drama, opens with a beautiful patch of Anaconda blue sky; the light from it pours down a broken part of the top of a trailer where young Mickey (Camila Morrone) sleeps.
Soon Mickey is up, sitting on the steps of the trailer door, smoking a real paper-and-tobacco cigarette. She then fixes some eggs and calls out for “Hank.” A black and white car with a friendly cop therein pulls up to the trailer, letting Mickey know before a word is spoken just where Hank is.
That’s her father, an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD whose acting out often earns him a night in stir. Mickey’s mother died of cancer some years back, so Mickey, who is also yoked to her deadbeat boyfriend Aron (Ben Rosenfield), looks after her fractured father, cleans up his messes, buys his fast food with money she earns at a taxidermy shop and keeps track of his medications.
Hank (James Badge Dale) is a genuinely damaged person, but he’s also a fool, and a nasty one. But instead of ceding explanatory power entirely to his trauma from war, the film remains relentlessly in the present, raising a kind of chicken-or-egg question about Hank’s insufferable qualities and his squalid conditions.
“I don’t care what you do,” Hank says to Mickey in a lucid moment of cruelty (as opposed to a cruel moment of lucidity). “Because the truth is you’re going to forget about me.”
Mickey is set on getting out of Anaconda, forging an alliance with a kind, talented fellow at her high school; together they kick around plans to head west. All the while, Hank and Aron skulk like shoes just waiting to drop.
In her feature-directorial debut, Annabelle Attanasio, who also wrote the script, sidesteps the expected, as when one of Mickey’s crucial relationships ends with a gnarled whimper rather than the explosion that seemed entirely likely.
And in the role of Hank, Dale brings unusual nuance to what could have been a bag of clichés.
In the film’s final moments, Attanasio and Morrone aim for notes of freedom and escape that mean to resonate as both ambivalent and rallying. The lift is not all it could be, but the movie is still a promising one for both director and actor.