On its surface, Annabelle Attanasio's Mickey and the Bear appears to be your standard, gloomy, coming-of-age tale, its focus Mickey, a wise-beyond-her-years teenager-on-the-brink-of adulthood from a poor family in a small Montana town who doesn't seem to have any future prospects outside of getting married and having kids. Amid working (her taxidermy job reflects her impulse to fix things) and hanging with her loser boyfriend, she takes care of her war vet dad Hank. He's the Bear, wounded both physically (the cause of his opioid addiction) and mentally (he has some righteous PTSD), and retaining some vestige of his former charismatic self when he can hold his aggressive tendencies at bay. But he just can't recover, his wretched state compounded by the loss of his wife and his single parenthood. Although it becomes clear in the film's first 15 minutes that she's more like the parent in their relationship, from managing his brushes with the law, to cooking his dinner, to rocking him to sleep when he's having an episode, and putting money in his wallet when she knows he needs it.
Hank (played by James Badge Dale) is a knee-jerk charmer, but it's an impersonal act he uses to cover up his ever-present pain, an act that extends even to his daughter. He's also proud as fuck, has a short fuse, and wants absolutely no help from anyone. Dale plays the role like a violin, but the strength of Mickey and the Bear lies in the performance of relative newcomer Camila Morrone, who, as Mickey, carries the weight of the film in her soulful eyes and enigmatic smile.
Hers is a character of contradictions and Morrone works through them with subtle ease. Mickey's dutiful and level-headed, yet makes irresponsible decisions. She craves independence, yet can't seem to stop herself from cleaning up her father's messes, from putting him before anyone else, even herself. She struggles to exert her identity outside of her father and her boyfriend, while at the same time, she's a people pleaser who can't stand it when the men in her life are mad at her, even when they are so obviously at fault. She's the adult caring for her fucked-up father but she's also the child who wants his love and acceptance more than anything; some acknowledgement of how much she does for him, that he recognizes it and sees her. She loves her father, but she also hates him.
When Mickey is finally pushed to action, it's a relief, suffusing Mickey and the Bear with a feeling of hope amid the darkness and transforming a good film into a great one.