The film, a script and directorial debut from New York University student Annabelle Attanasio, is set and was shot in Anaconda and follows 18-year-old senior Mickey (Camila Morrone), who lives in a trailer just outside of town with her father, Hank (James Badge Dale). He's a veteran on a lineup of prescription pills for pain, depression and PTSD. Her mother’s death from cancer still hangs over both of them like a storm cloud.
As Mickey nears the end of her senior year of high school, she starts planning her adult life. At first she’s drawn into the idea of marrying a local boy, Aron, who works for his dad in town and can provide them a house and boat to take the family to Georgetown Lake. Later, Mickey starts to fixate on the idea of college in California, encouraged by another classmate who was accepted into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Her relationship with her father complicates things. Hank doesn’t seem to work, never has any money, constantly drinks and pops another oxycodone when he’s not feeling right. He repeatedly begs Mickey not to leave him and she resignedly says, every time, “I’m not going anywhere,” as much a cold truth as a prison sentence.
The movie is brisk, just under 90 minutes long, and it packs a lot of narrative in between plenty of small-town exposition. Attanasio has a knack for including little details — a focus on the track and field announcer who looks like any Montana dad, a daytime tryst in a car pulled over on a dirt road in the woods, and a bonfire party with a tinny Bluetooth speaker blaring electronica music to a group of redneck kids.
Costumer Lucy Hawkins, production designer Katie Fleming and art and set decorators Tessla Hastings and Lauren Norby (both Montanans) do an incredible job making each and every character lived-in and finding a real essence of small-town Montana, without giving in to clichés.
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Conor Murphy, the director of photography, does a sterling job as well of finding anything and everything unique about the setting, from Anaconda’s gorgeous throwback main street (the Club Moderne neon provides a great space for moody scenes) and the surrounding wilderness, as in a scene on the Bitterroot River.
To see Montana with this fullness, vibrant and real and current; no veneers of period setting or one town standing in for another, is a comparative rarity that makes “Mickey and the Bear” a delight.
The characterization as well rings true, for good and for bad. Attanasio told the Missoulian she chose Montana in part because of the high veteran population, within which Hank fits a mold of broken ex-Marine to a T, his clear care for Mickey occasionally overridden by angry outbursts or sinister hints of him confusing her for her mother when under the influence.
He veers from hilariously Montanan (at one point failing to figure out where Mickey’s British exchange student classmate is from, before confidently handing the kid a hunting rifle) to deeply sad, pridefully refusing help from anyone and everyone, no matter their intentions. He fails to see as well how he’s driving his daughter away — or worse, recognizes it and does nothing.
In the end, it’s clear that “Mickey and the Bear” is a coming-of-age story, yes, but among its many eccentricities, setting and willingness to look at a harder side of teenage life (“Sixteen Candles,” this is not) it stands out. “Mickey and the Bear” will make you glad you live in Montana, and may make you look a little more kindly, too, at your neighbors, whoever they may be.