“Just because an idea looks good to you doesn’t mean it will be look good to the audience.”
This is advice every screenwriting guide book gives to potential filmmakers. While it’s good for filmmakers to make the films they want to see, they should also take into consideration if there’s an audience who’d want to see it too. The same thing goes for a filmmaker’s style. While it’s good to stand out from other filmmakers, there’s a danger of it going overboard at the audiences expense. Case in Point; Kim Nguyen’s Arctic love story Two Lovers and a Bear. While some people will be taken in by the beautiful arctic landscape and intense performances, many will be turned off by the slow pace and attempted magical realism. I’ll explain.
In a remote arctic outpost, love is in bloom for Lucy (Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany) and Roman (Dane Dehaan of Chronicle). But each one is dealing with their own inner demons, with Lucy’s taking the form of her father’s spirit (John Ralston). Lucy sees an escape from her demons when she gets accepted into a university. This proves a huge problem for Roman since it means Lucy will be leaving him and he can’t bring himself to leave. These problems bring the demons out in the open for these disturbed lovebirds and threatens to destroy them both.
A talking polar bear!
This film has a talking polar bear in it! Let that sink in for a minute. This sums up a major problem with the film; the confusion of tone. For the first part, Nguyen seemed to be going for this realistic, psychological character study of two tormented souls. The only magical thing was the spirit of Lucy’s father showing up, but that could arguably be a symptom of Lucy’s trauma. But then a polar bear comes out of nowhere and speaks to Roman with the voice of Gordon Pisent. And its lips move. And suddenly we’re diving into magic realism.
This comes out of nowhere and brings up a lot of distracting questions. Is the bear real or a hallucination from Roman’s drinking? Does this mean Lucy’s father is an actual spirit? And what the hell is the director going for? For the rest of the film, the magical elements conflicts with the film’s gritty, realistic tone, causing the movie to fight against itself. It doesn’t help that the bear’s CGI moving lips are unintentionally hilarious.
Another problem is the story’s lack of consistent focus. The conflicts are treated with a notable lack of disinterest, which keeps the audience from connecting to the story. This may be bias from personally knowing people in long distance relationships, but Roman and Lucy’s reactions to the possible separation comes off as immature, especially when Roman’s automatic reaction is to get drunk and shoot random objects. Maslany and Dehaan have so little chemistry it proves difficult to connect with the character’s relationship.
This film has a lot going for it. Through Nicolas Bolduc’s cinematography, the isolated snowy environment glows with enchanting beauty. Maslany and Dehaan bring out their character’s inner turmoil. While their chemistry doesn’t work, they interactions with the extras does an excellent job of developing a believable relationship with the locals. Whether the good can be taken with the bad depends on each audience member.
I wanted to like Two Lovers and a Bear. I really did. Nguyen’s made the compelling war movie Rebelle aka War Witch. Maslany and Dehaan are excellent actors. Plus, the arctic environment is a cinematographer’s dream. But I was so disappointed with this movie. The film can’t reconcile with its conflicting tone. The story doesn’t leave enough information for us to engage with the story. The characters are hard to connect with. Maybe Nguyen’s next film will turn it around.