Variety is the Spice of Life

Kerri Russell and a very realistic bear in “Cocaine Bear”

Sometimes, all you need is a title to know if you’re going to like a movie. “Snakes on a Plane” for instance; the title tells you the basis of the plot. “Cocaine Bear”, playing in theaters now, is another film with it’s premise right there in the title. Based on an actual event from 1985, the story is about a bear consuming cocaine in a forest in Georgia.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games”

I’m a fan of actor/director Elizabeth Banks. She was great as Effie Trinket in “The Hunger Games” series. She was funny as Gail Abernathy-McKadden in the “Pitch Perfect” series before directing (and acting in) “Pitch Perfect 2” (2015). That film opened to the tune of $69 million gross and that set a record for a first-time director. Banks wrote, produced, starred and directed “Charlie’s Angels” (2019). She’s formed her own production company along with her husband. Fun fact for us Philly fans: Banks graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, where she was a member of Delta Delta Delta. She was the first in her family to graduate from college.

I try to support women directors, especially when they’re creating content that’s often out-of-bounds for female directors. “Cocaine Bear” is labeled as a comedy/thriller but there’s also elements of horror. If the title alone doesn’t make you want to see the film, the trailer gives you a good idea of the story. Unlike the real bear (that one died, overdosing on cocaine), this creature goes on a murderous rampage. The animatronic bear and the special effects team have created a very realistic bear and the carnage is both gruesome and played for laughs.

If you find the idea of an addicted bear snorting cocaine off an amputated leg to be funny, then the carnage won’t bother you. It’s been a very popular film and has made over $82 million at the box office. Now it’s available to stream on most platforms for $19.99 and will make even more money. The best way to see this film, if it’s a film you’re interested in, is in a theater with an appreciative audience. Comedy plays well in a full house.

Having done my due diligence, I know that this film is not one for me. My brain knows that the bear is created with movie magic but my psyche still thinks the carnage is real. I can sometimes endure violence if it’s really over the top but kids in jeopardy or intense gore is not for me. I do appreciate what Banks has done with the story to make it a parable of family bonding through extreme situations. It would be hard not to root for the bear.

Often, I find myself watching films that I know little about. Sometimes, it’s just a title or a brief description. Film festivals or films that have been recommended by others, I often go into a screening “blind”. Fortunately, there are so many aspects of a film that I can enjoy even if the subject matter isn’t to my taste. I can watch the cinematography, enjoy the setting or costumes, appreciate the production design or focus on how the music and editing are working to sell the story.

I sat behind a mother and her middle-aged daughter at a recent theater screening. They were clearly there to see “Everything Everywhere All At Once” for the first time and going because the film had won the Oscar. The older woman was uncomfortable during most of the movie. I watched her cringe during the butt plug scenes and sit in bafflement while others laughed at the raccoon under the chef’s hat. As the credits rolled, she turned, exasperated, to her daughter and said, “I just don’t get it!”

It’s a feeling I’ve shared. That frustration when others seem to see something you don’t; some aspect of the film that you can’t grasp. It’s important to remember that it’s the director’s (or in the case of “EEAAO”, directors’) vision that makes the film a unique experience. There are times when you want to enjoy the comfort of a Hallmark Christmas movie. That’s a place for the cookie-cutter approach to filmmaking. There’s a comfort to the familiar. If we don’t want our movie theaters to be full of the same bland fare, we need to celebrate the unique vision of filmmakers who are taking chances.

I won’t be going to see “Cocaine Bear” but I’m here to celebrate that a woman director made a whacky action film and put her own spin on it. I’m here to appreciate that others will have a good time watching it. I’ll be happy to buy a ticket to the next film that Elizabeth Banks directs, and I’m hoping it’s another big hit. I want there to be films available for everyone to enjoy.

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