Discover more from The Reveal
In Review: 'Cocaine Bear' and 'The Quiet Girl'
This week brings, as the titles suggest, movies about a cocaine bear and a quiet girl.
Dir. Elizabeth Banks
It’s reasonable to be suspicious of Cocaine Bear. The history of movies that break out as internet phenomena before anyone has a chance to see them is not long and glorious, nor is that of pre-engineered cult movies involving sharknados, zombeavers, megalodons and their ilk. Too often they put the “fun” in quotation marks, expecting an outrageous concept and a camp tone to do all the work. Cocaine Bear, which has been building anticipation among those intrigued by the idea of watching a bear go on a cocaine-fueled rampage since its trailer debuted late last year, isn’t entirely removed from either tradition. No movie filled with familiar faces delivering big performances while being terrorized by a wild animal could be. But, done well enough, this sort of movie can shake off the quotation marks and be actually fun.
“Well enough” is the key phrase here. Directed by Elizabeth Banks, Cocaine Bear has one standout action scene involving an ambulance fleeing the eponymous cocaine bear in which every non-ursine character makes the wrong choice at the wr0ng time. It’s otherwise a thoroughly amiable B-movie filled with appealing stars, some of whom don’t make it to the credits without being mauled, disemboweled, or otherwise troubled by the cocaine bear. And it flies by, delivering the murder-bear-on-cocaine goods with dark humor anda healthy heaping of gore without overstaying its welcome. It may not be a great movie, but it feels like the sort of movie we need right now.
The Reveal is a reader-supported newsletter dedicated to bringing you great essays, reviews and conversation about movies. While both free and paid subscriptions are available, please consider a paid subscription to support our long-term sustainability
Set in 1985 at the height of “Just Say No” and featuring period details and an ’80s-inspired Mark Mothersbaugh score to suit the times, the film is very loosely based on an incident in which the corpse of a 175-pound black bear was discovered in the wilderness. Cause of death: a cocaine overdose caused by ingesting cargo dropped from a plane by a smuggler. Cocaine Bear shifts the action to Georgia’s Blood Mountain and plays around with biology. Instead of dying, a bear ingesting cocaine turns bloodthirsty and begins attacking anyone unfortunate enough to wander in her path. (After, presumably, experiencing an intoxicating but fleeting rush of self-confidence.)
Said unfortunates include everyone from a single-mom nurse (Keri Russell) to a park ranger in search of romance (Margo Martindale) to a beleaguered sheriff (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) regretting the shortcomings of his recently adopted dog to a short-tempered drug dealer (Ray Liotta, who receives a dedication in the credits). Everyone’s in tune with the spirit of the film, but the standouts here are Alden Ehrenreich and O’Shea Jackson Jr., who make a fun buddy pairing as low-level drug-ring operatives sent to retrieve what they can of the lost cargo. Someone should pair them in a better movie someday, but this not-bad one will do for now. —Keith Phipps
Cocaine Bear opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow.
The Quiet Girl
Dir. Colm Balréad
The Claire Keegan short story “Foster” is told from the perspective of an Irish girl sent to live with foster parents on a farm while her overtaxed mother adds another baby to a house full of siblings. The lovely film adaptation of Keegan’s story, The Quiet Girl, keeps that perspective without the advantage of the girl serving as narrator, so that immediate access to her interiority is lost. It’s a fascinating challenge for writer-director Colm Balréad to expand Keegan’s work to feature length while studying a nine-year-old who’s every bit as soft-spoken as the title suggests. We have to guess what she’s thinking, which requires a child actress who projects emotion while saying nothing and a director who can find meaning in the accumulation of small, sometimes incidental details.
Set in the summer of 1981, The Quiet Girl is a drama of absolute simplicity, turning on a single late-film revelation that clarifies the relationships and amplifies the connection that develops between the child and the strangers who spend a summer looking after her. It is also, crucially, told in the Irish language, which creates a feeling of isolation in the film’s rural setting, but also heightens the intimacy, as if these characters were sharing a secret vernacular. They may not be understood by outsiders, but the language gives their world a unique coherence, which extends from the family to small pockets of community.
First shown curled up in a field of uncut hay—her family cannot afford to harvest it on time—Cáit (Catherine Clinch) is ostensibly playing hide-and-seek with her sisters, but it’s really more a game of “hide” for her. That’s an easy thing to do in a household defined by chaos and neglect, where the kids scramble to put bread in their school lunches because no one bothered to make them. The most obvious sign of Cáit’s anxiety is a tendency to wet herself, which also makes her an extra hassle for her parents, who are expecting another unplanned-for child in a few months. So they decide to ease the burden by leaving Cáit with her mom’s middle-aged cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley) and her taciturn husband Sean (Andrew Bennett), who live alone on a dairy farm three hours away.
From the start, Eibhlín shows Cáit a level of attention and kindness that she plainly has never felt at home and it has a restorative quality to it, as the three establish a steady routine together. Sean takes longer to warm to the girl, but he comes around, too, contrasting sharply with Cáit’s actual father, who’s coarse and drinks too much. Save for a one big turn of the plot, that’s all there is to A Quiet Girl and perhaps all there needs to be.t may be expanded from a short story, but it’s the rare film that feels like a short story in terms of proportionality. It’s a minor, thoughtful, emotionally engaged slice of life with three heartrending lead performances and an evocative sense of place. Sometimes that’s enough. — Scott Tobias
The Quiet Girl opens in select cities tomorrow.