Baseball legend (and malaprop master) Yogi Berra would have been a perceptive movie critic.
Consider how well one of his signature comments — “It’s like deja vu all over again” — suits Mickey and the Bear. But mostly in a good way.
There are times when this coming-of-age drama — about an often-overwhelmed teen struggling to deal with her father, a troubled Iraq War veteran — plays like an inadvertent variation on Debra Granik’s 2018’s powerful Leave No Trace.
Yet this feature debut from writer-director Annabelle Attanasio (daughter of Oscar-nominated Quiz Show screenwriter Paul Attanasio), fresh from the festival circuit, overcomes a somewhat derivative storyline to forge its own identity.
In part, that’s due to the movie’s evocative setting: the Montana mining town of Anaconda, where reminders of its prosperous past contrast with a more precarious present.
Yet even scenic Big Sky Country can prove painfully confining, as the movie’s title character discovers.
High school senior Mickey Peck (Camila Morrone) is turning 18 — and facing more than the usual teenage traumas.
That’s because she’s essentially switched roles with her father Hank (James Badge Dale), a battle-battered ex-Marine who spends his days playing video games, knocking back booze, inhaling opioids — and wondering “where’s my (expeletive deleted) life?”
Mickey’s mother has died of cancer (“everybody gets cancer in Anaconda,” one character matter-of-factly observes), so it’s up to the youngster to be the adult in the family.
She cooks, she cleans, she cradles Hank as he drops off to troubled sleep — and hides Hank’s multiple guns while she’s at school or working at a local taxidermy shop.
There’s also Mickey’s demanding boyfriend (Ben Rosenfield), whose insufferable behavior bears more than a slight resemblance to that of her maddening dad.
No wonder Mickey finds herself drawn to a more sensitive classmate (Calvin Demba), even as her father’s existence — and, consequently, her own — spiral ever downward.
Mickey and the Bear pursues its grim narrative with relentless determination — and, in the process, occasionally overplays its hand.
More often, however, the movie plays to its strengths, including striking imagery and Attanasio’s ability to build sympathy for her characters without sentimentalizing them — or their circumstances.
Primarily, however, Mickey and the Bear showcases Morrone and Dale’s compelling, complementary performances. Separately and together, they convey the ways a father and daughter can love each other, lose each other — and wish there were some other way to live.