If you give a bear cocaine, she’ll want a movie to go with it

Hot take: Maybe the real Cocaine Bear was the friends we made along the way

When I sat down that fateful Sunday for a matinee showing of “Cocaine Bear,” I didn’t expect to leave the theater a changed person — and I didn’t — but it was more fun than I thought it would be.

“Cocaine Bear” is Elizabeth Banks’ newest film and it features 2023’s most eye-catching title yet. The film depicts a fictional retelling of true events that occurred in Georgia in 1985.

In reality, a bear ate a lot of cocaine lost by a drug trafficker and died. Personally, I prefer the story from the film, where the bear gets a happy ending and a well-rounded diet.
Still, the film definitely had its faults; for one, the lighting and camera work was stale and uninspired. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but with the beautiful filming locations they used, it could have been visually appealing rather than strangely static. Another glaring fault came in the form of the script and its dialogue. The children were strangely philosophical and the hard-hitting moments were lackluster. As for the comedy, it was fairly hit or miss. From what I saw in the theater, the emotional lines seemed to yield more unintentional laughs than the comedic lines did intentional ones. Still, that’s not to say the movie wasn’t funny — if anything, the poor script contributed to the humor.

Another major issue of the film was the inclusion of 14 major characters (only counting humans). With several different plotlines running at once, the story feels busy and I found myself wondering where the bear went. Seeing as each storyline had minimal time to advance their arcs, they were all underdeveloped, and as a result, the characters are inconsistent. I didn’t really care about the attempted cycle-of-abuse-and-family-trauma plotline nor the hastily established commentary on police incompetence, but for the pet dog and the bear I was on the edge of my seat.

Another element I did find strange in the movie was its handling of the politics of the time. Set in the ‘80s and featuring cocaine, this story is burdened with the reality of the issues of the time. In case you’re unfamiliar, President Nixon in the 1970s weaponized crack, a less expensive drug than cocaine, to more heavily criminalize people who can’t afford cocaine.

The movie mentioned this reality in a throwaway line and included two of the three people of color in the cast as the only two police officers in the story. Now, I’m not saying that “Cocaine Bear” needed to serve as a witty political commentary, but it is a reality present in the story no matter what. The movie is clearly somewhat aware of this, as it is mentioned, and the casting seems to serve as a preemptive defense against possible pushback by audience members.

One thing I did enjoy, however, was the film’s handling of mother and child dynamics. Two of the main characters are a single mother and child. Here, within the silly humor and poor technical aspects, is a light in the middle of the darkness. It was moving to see a mother so dedicated to her children that she would risk life and limb to care for them. The scene in which her children slurped up someone’s organs was especially compelling. Oh, and the human family dynamics are okay as well.

Seriously, though, the bear was the highlight of this movie. I was rooting for her the entire time and wished she had much more screen time. So, if you’re going to watch this movie for anyone, watch it for the Cocaine Bear herself.

Rating: 5/10