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Why Cocaine Bear isn’t the film we want, but the film we need

. . . and how I don’t really believe that statement I just like its impact, and also how having long clunky titles like this is fun

I mean it made no secret of it, it tells you straight away. The film opens with a quote from Wikipedia, and the text on the screen that tells you the source of the quote is delayed, as if knowingly. That’s telling you, as if you didn’t already know having seen the trailer and heard the title, that the film you are about to watch is one thing: silly. And silly is fine, silly is good, in fact silly has an important place. I miss the days when something could just be silly, before everything it had to be aware and purposeful. Or maybe that’s just me.

First though, a brief review of the film itself. It was stupid. There you go. In that sense it was a masterpiece, because it achieved exactly what it set out to achieve, and how many other films can you name that have done that? That have unequivocally fulfilled audience expectations? No one left the cinema after watching this film and said ‘Yeah, it was okay, but the relationship between the protagonist and the friend wasn’t convincing, and, I don’t know, it just didn’t have enough emotional significance for me,’ or whatever. The film was stupid, and was cleverly made to be stupid. It was a masterclass of stupid, and as a result, it produced a blanket of reactions, all the same, all in line with expectations, so in that sense, maybe you could say it’s the most successful film of all time.

That was the beauty of it, it couldn’t fail. The only way it could’ve failed was if it tried to make the bear an allegorical device, or something, if it tried to turn the film into some comment on the patriarchy or some marginalised groups’ struggle to have a voice. If it tried to be anything other than an anaesthetising ninety minute clip of a dumb action film, it would’ve failed, and luckily, it didn’t. It knew exactly what it was. And maybe there’s a place for that. I’ve seen so many films that try to have some meaning, try to make some profound statement, and those that pull that off are great, but that’s not easy to do, and most of them don’t pull it off, and come across as preachy and annoying. Something like the second Jurassic World. That was a stupid film trying to dress up as something else, and the result was cringy, false and annoying.

This trip to watch a CGI bear attack people while high on drugs was the first time I’d been to a mainstream cinema in a while, and the experience was nostalgic. It reminded me of a time before I was a snooty hipster who only attends arthouse films that are ‘challenging.’ It reminded me of the value of going to a multiplex, buying a bag of sweets from a corner shop on the way for a quarter of the price the same bag is sold at the concession stand, finding your seat in the dark, watching trailers for mainstream action and superhero films, and then, for a well timed hour and a half, not thinking about subtext or intentionality or auteurship or thematic devices, or any of that stuff, and just watching something whose greatest intelligence is that it knows how stupid it is. I actually hung my mouth open, and it felt good. It reminded me of a childhood, and maybe that’s why I’m getting all sentimental about this, but it re-highlighted the value of dumbness. Art cannot save the world, and if people stopped pretending it can, we’d be better off.

I’d like to imagine the pitch meeting Elizabeth Banks had with some Hollywood people with silly six word long job titles who, if pressed, couldn’t actually really tell you what they do for a living, and certainly not without resorting to buzz words and phrases, a meeting in which she was probably, like, ‘This is a film about a bear on drugs, and it’s about nothing else, it’s not about saving the world or any of that stuff. It’s a dumb action film which is purely fun and nothing else. What it’s called, you ask? Oh, just wait until you hear the title. If you’re not sold yet, you will be.’

If I were to have any complaints about the film, actually, it would be that it wasn’t more stupid. The highlight was the brief sequence in the middle when some ambulance workers are called out to the park rangers’ office, find the carnage, and then try to flee in their van while the bear chases them down the road, with all sorts of screaming and swearing and I Just Can’t Get Enough playing, (that use of sound being the closest thing to subtlety in the whole cinematic experience), a sequence which climaxed in a park ranger strapped to a hospital bed flying out onto the road and scraping her face down to the bone on concrete, one paramedic’s hand hanging on by a thread, and the other paramedic getting launched through the window as the vehicle crashed into a tree. That little five minute spell was the film embracing its chaos, and perhaps more of this would’ve been fun, would’ve accentuated the dumbness.

Actually there was perhaps a moment that went a little too far in the stupidity, at the end, when the bear, which is now perceived as a victim, is shot at and pushed over the edge of a cliff by Ray Liotta, the film’s real villain, and looks to be dead, but then is miraculously brought back to life when a bag of cocaine splits and a little powdery flake lands in its nose, stirring it back into action as if cocaine was its Popeye-esque spinach. That was hilarious, and not entirely the right kind of hilarious, but, it was forgivable, because nobody expected anything else.

If more films embraced their dumbness, I think we’d all be better off.

Anyway the next film I go to see will probably be nothing like Cocaine Bear, it will probably be some arty experimental piece about yearning or ‘what it means to be human’, or whatever, but for now, that film has reminded me of the value of forgetting, and how mainstream cinema and its inherent shitness has a part to play in getting us through the day.

Thanks, coke bear.

(Mild disclaimer: I may or may not actually believe any of what I just said. It’s just something I wanted to write about, in that personal, impish tone, like Foster Wallace, who I increasingly can’t even pretend I’m not trying to rip off.)

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