Camila Morrone and Annabelle Attanasio on Exploring the Patriarchy and Opioid Crisis in ‘Mickey and the Bear’

A young woman’s coming-of-age is complicated by her unsavory home life in a small Montana town in the character-driven drama “Mickey and the Bear.” Rising actress Camila Morrone marvels as the title character, a high school senior who is trapped in a codependent relationship with her widowed father, Hank Peck (James Badge Dale). In addition to suffering from PTSD as a result of his service in Iraq, Hank, like so many other Americans, has an addiction to opioids, and it often falls on his daughter not only to cook for him and drive him home when he gets drunk, but also to make sure he has enough of the pills he depends on just to get through the day.

“Mickey and the Bear” is the directorial feature debut of filmmaker and actress Annabelle Attanasio. “A lot of things,” she replied when asked by Entertainment Voice what inspired her to tell this story. “I’m interested in the way women, complex women, are silenced and made to feel invisible by a patriarchal world. All of my work sort of explores that with different people, and with ‘Mickey,’ I was looking at the ways that that can play out in the home.”

For Morrone, it was the challenge of playing a character as complex as Mickey that attracted her to the script. “I thought it was meaningful and not just surface-level and had something more to say than the average, entertaining two hour movie,” explained the actress. “I found this character to be really challenging, and something that I never played and didn’t know how to do.”

Mickey finds ways to lash out against, and break free, from her dad, and while it would have been easy for Attanasio to have made him a one-dimensional villain, he’s a fully fleshed-out character with deep-seated fears of his own. The most heart-wrenching scenes in the film involve the pair trying to communicate in their little home. Morrone holds her own against the seasoned indie actor, “He is very much about making the other person get what they need in order to get their point across,” said Morrone of Dale. “He’s so confident in himself as a man and as a person, that he’s able to take himself out of the equation and lift you up.” 

Attanasio spoke about the heavy themes that are explored through Hank. Like Ben Foster’s character in “Leave No Trace,” he is an example about how vets are often let down by society, and his behavior has a huge impact on his daughter’s quality of life. “In this day and age, PTSD and the opioid crisis are these two things that go hand in hand. There’s an impulse out of a capitalistic culture to push pills on people who are struggling or in need. I find that to be utterly wrong and disgusting, so in terms of Hank, it was important to dramatize that larger social issue, a character who is a product of a larger system, and not necessarily make excuses for his poor parenting decisions at times, but rather to explain why he is the way he is.”

An unseen but important presence in the Peck home is Vanessa, Mickey’s mother who died from cancer. Her grief for her mom is intensified by the fact that Hank refuses to speak about her. Because of this, Morrone had to find ways to express Mickey’s pain without words. “I’m so expressive and communicative and outgoing. Mickey’s the polar opposite of that, and everything is so internalized for her, that it was challenging to play someone who is feeling all of these things, but just is swallowing them, time and time again in every single day of her life. I had to find ways that I could exude the emotion without words and too much physicality.”

Fortunately, Mickey finds a strong influence in Leslee Watkins (Rebecca Henderson), the only positive role model she connects to, female or otherwise. The scenes with Leslee, the local doctor whom Mickey encounters while trying to get a refill of Hank’s OxyContin, are important because she’s the only adult who truly challenges the teen. “It was important to have a female presence in the movie, because it is a movie very much about how a young woman deals with all iterations of masculinity,” said Attanasio.

Mickey also manages to find ways to blow off steam, including finding quiet moments to smoke alone, hanging out with friends, and working at a taxidermy shop, a typical job for a teen in Montana that seems to suit her and bring out another side of her personality. She also has her two suitors, local goofball Aron (Ben Rosenfield), who wants to settle down with her after graduation, and Wyatt (Calvin Demba), a British-American classmate who, like Mickey, wants to escape to California for college. 

“I’m the one who had to kiss them,” said Morrone when asked about these boyfriend characters. “It wasn’t really so much [kissing], in the grand scheme of things. It just felt like a lot. Every kiss feels like ten.”

“In a sense, Aron is representative of her life if she stays, and Wyatt is representative of her life if she leaves,” explained Attanasio. “They’ll full-fledged human beings and characters, but they’re more so mirrors for her and where she’s at in terms of her struggle of whether to stay or leave.”

The picturesque setting of Anaconda, Montana for “Mickey and the Bear” certainly sets it apart from other films that take place in small towns. Attanasio, who immersed herself in the culture of this part of the country before filming, explained why it was important for her to create a rich world. “It took years of research and calling up friends who lived out there for their advice about the ways certain scenes would play out, trying to develop the visual language between the boundlessness and the potential that exists in the Montana landscape verses the claustrophobia and the oppressive feeling that comes with living in a household with somebody who’s holding you back.”

Attanasio and her crew took advantage of the great outdoors. One of the most pivotal scenes plays out on a lake during a hunting trip Mickey takes with Hank and Wyatt. Despite the tense situation that ensues, the women explained why this was one of the most enjoyable scenes to film.

“We had a 12-plus-hour day, and no one had any reception,” recalled Morrone. “It was really cool to be really off all day with a crew of 25 people in the middle of a river. We saw a bear.” “We had to float all of our equipment down the river, which was an incredible experience,” revealed Attanasio. “That was a very absurd work day,” added Morrone. “This is my job? I’m on a dinghy going to set.”

Mickey and the Bear” opens Nov. 13 in New York, Nov. 22 in Los Angeles, and Nov. 29 nationwide.