What’s the worst possible way to propose to the perfect woman?
Thought of it yet?
Odds are whatever you thought of isn’t as outlandish as independent comedy Bear With Us, a hysterical film from director William Stribling and co-writer Russ Nickel. The film had audiences rolling in their seats at last weekend’s Hill Country Film Festival, where Bear With Us took home the prize for Best Feature Film.
Part horror spoof and part screwball comedy, Bear With Us follows out of work hopeless romantic Colin (Mark Jude Sullivan) as he attempts to rekindle his relationship with uptight Quincy (Christy Carlson Romano) with a getaway weekend.
Dragging their best friends Harry (Collin Smith) and Tammy (Alex McKenna) along, the four head out to Harry’s aunt’s cabin in the woods where Colin has a ridiculous plan to propose to Quincy at the end of a fake bear hunt.
Catch a trailer for Bear With Us on Vimeo here.
If you hold on for the entire ride, the film’s first third is akin to one gigantic set-up to the world’s longest hilarious joke. It takes a while for Stribling and Nickel to establish all of the characters in their story, but once everything is in place, Bear With Us takes off like a rocket ship that refuses to slow down.
Perhaps the most refreshing thing about the 90-minute comedy is how un-referential it is. Aside from the obvious Ranger Rick jokes and Harry watching a single YouTube clip of a fainting goat, Bear With Us is entirely original, in-the-moment comedy. No one is mocking celebrities or making overt nods to their roles in other films.
Bear With Us is simply the funniest version of a script built out of a cabin in the woods scenario. No frills, no cheats, just quality comedy.
At some point in their lives, everyone knows or will know a girl like Quincy. (P.S. If you don’t know one, odds are probably pretty good that you’re a Quincy. Anyways…)
Romano perfectly personifies Quincy as that stuck-up witch with a b who truly thinks that average people are beneath her. It’s incredibly easy to overplay such a comically stereotypical role, but Romano does a terrific job of keeping as much of Quincy’s elitist personality non-verbal as she does emoting vocally. To this point, her resting bitch face is absolutely on point.
Her awkward, disinterest chemistry with Sullivan works here because Sullivan throws himself around like a lawn dart in the relentless pursuit of love so easily. While certainly not the best performance in the film, Sullivan pushes the narrative forward in a capable way and allows other actors to shine, though he still gets in a few good laughs every now and again.
For as much as the film is driven by its two primary leads, the magic of Bear With Us comes entirely from its magical secondary cast members, including Adrienne the bear who makes cameo appearances on screen throughout the course of the film.
Ironically, Bear With Us marks the second consecutive Hill Country Film Festival Best Feature Film winner to include a real life bear in the movie following last year’s winner WildLike. Future HCFF filmmakers might just want to take note.
Probably the most famous of Bear With Us’ secondary cast is Glee alum (and HCFF Best Actor nominee) Cheyenne Jackson as rugged outdoorsman Hudson. Jackson pounds the film with an aggressive energy every second he is on screen and it works in spurts, though the schtick gets a tad tiresome by around the 70 minute mark.
Hudson works best when he is shown as a counterbalance to a plucky and aloof forest ranger aptly named Rick (Kevin Carolan). Carolan is a treat to watch with his chirpy personality enjoyable throughout. His performance is a great setup to every single time Rick fails in his quest to protect the bears in his territory, with scenes featuring Chief Ranger Stewart (voice of Lea DeLaria) chewing Rick out on the phone being among the best in the entire film.
Without a doubt, Bear With Us wouldn’t be half the comedy it ends up being without spectacular performances from McKenna as Tammy and Smith as Harry.
At first glance, it might seem as though the characters could be easily written off (or poorly acted) as a stereotypical slutty best friend or a Zach Galifianakis ripoff. However, immense credit must be given to both actors as well as the pitch perfect writing of these characters by Nickel and Stribling to create some of the funniest moments in independent comedy in recent years.
Key to both performances is an acute sense of self-awareness from Tammy and Harry in understanding who they are and how they relate to the rest of the group. It’s a wonderful contrast to the chemically imbalanced duo of Colin and Quincy.
McKenna brightens the screen with a quirky energy that is infectious to watch. It’s easy to tell how much enjoyment she has as an actress to play such a well-written part and it shows in the performance.
Smith is a practical comedy star in the making with such an effortless constant stream of humanity and hilarity as Harry. The way Smith is able to embolden Harry with humanity beyond what is written on the script page and make him such an authentic character is outstanding. There’s very little wonder why Stribling and Nickel wrote the part with Smith in mind.
That being said, a complete spinoff feature or web series starring McKenna and Smith as Tammy and Harry would be infinitely watchable and sorely needed in the indie comedy landscape.
Editing truly helps Nickel and Stribling’s excellent script shine as the film bounces back and forth between multiple simultaneous conversations to help speed things along, and at times, to add a deeper level of humor in scenes. This is especially true in the film’s opening moments, where Colin and Harry are
discussing Colin’s desire to re-propose to Quincy at the same time Quincy hems and haws with Tammy about being too wimpy to break up with Colin.
Stribling made a very astute call for Bear With Us, opting to film in black and white from start to finish. While early in the comedy, the choice felt a little contrived; as Bear With Us progresses into the woods and through the rollercoaster ride, viewers begin to appreciate the added layer of suspense that it gives in moments of humorous tension.
A final word to moviegoers on the fence about Bear With Us: Do yourself a favor.
Assess the film by catching its hilarious trailer.
Prepare to laugh your ass off for a couple of hours.
Execute a plan of action by finding a way to see Bear With Us at a film festival or when it comes out on VOD.
Conquer. (Trust me.)
Note: This Cinematic Considerations review of Bear With Us is one of several films reviewed following the seventh annual Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg, Texas, April 28-May 1. Critic Matt Ward is a programmer for HCFF.