Tackling Inherited Trauma in SXSW Film Mickey and the Bear

Writer/director Annabelle Attanasio on when bloodlines become scars


As Mickey and the Bear opens, Mickey Peck cycles through the early morning routine familiar to most heads of household: divvying up meds and frying up eggs while calling out for her charge, the unseen Hank.

A rap on the door by the police, however, soon reveals that Hank is neither partner nor child, but a father in need of collection after spending the night in jail for driving under the influence – an occasion proven all too familiar by Mickey's blasé utterance to the officer: "I'll get my shoes on."

In her debut feature, actor-turned-writer/director Annabelle Attanasio chronicles the seemingly loving yet unpredictable relationship between Mickey (Camila Morrone) – a high school senior in remote Anaconda, Mont., with dreams of attending college in San Diego – and her widowed, Marine Corps veteran father (Hold the Dark's James Badge Dale), who spends his days engulfed in an oxycodone, boozed-out haze at their shared mobile home; Attanasio described the pair as "thick as thieves" and also the source of each other's codependent tendencies.

The eldest of three siblings, Attanasio drew heavily from her own experiences taking on the responsibility of her family's emotional weight. As a kid and teenager with a family background she called "volatile," she says, "I was kind of oscillating between the feeling of tremendous pride for taking that weight on, but also tremendous guilt."

Similarly, Mickey shoulders one burden after the other for Hank: hiding his guns every night out of fear of him ending his own life – or perhaps even others' – and stealing a prescription slip from the V.A. psychiatrist (Russian Doll's Rebecca Henderson) lest she face the wrath of an opioid addict without a fix. Though Attanasio insists Hank's underlying addiction narrative "is not at the forefront" of Mickey's themes, she couldn't ignore it when developing his background as an injured vet. "I couldn't tell the veteran's narrative in 2018 without including the addiction narrative and the opioid narrative." Hank's far from an upstanding father, but can you really blame him? "He's failed by the system that really claims his support to him," said Attanasio. "He served his country, and look how it pays him back."

“Young girls and young women are taught that martyrdom is the only way to be a woman.” – Writer/director Annabelle Attanasio on the burdens of Mickey (Camila Morrone) in Mickey and the Bear.

Attanasio's inspiration to write Hank's veteran storyline emerged when she discovered parallels in how partners and children of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans – sometimes injured, often experiencing PTSD, and prescribed "irresponsible amounts of opiates" – inherit their trauma as well. She explained, "On one hand, it's your responsibility to fix things, but on the other hand, it's such a larger, systemic problem that it's totally out of your hands, and you can feel totally hopeless and totally microscopic in this huge failing system."

For Attanasio, what she sees as Mickey's "martyr syndrome" is hardly the stuff of fiction. "I think young girls and young women are taught that martyrdom is the only way to be a woman and [that to be] an ideal, upstanding human is to be somewhat subservient and to live your life in service to your partner, husband, and children," she observed. At the outset of the film, Mickey is "somewhat numb" to those entrapments. "She's like, 'This is my life. I live in service to my father. I love him. I would do anything for him because he would do anything for me. He's all I have.'"


Mickey and the Bear

NARRATIVE FEATURE COMPETITION

Saturday, March 9, 11am, Stateside
Sunday, March 10, 2:30pm, Alamo S. Lamar
Thursday, March 14, 5pm, Alamo S. Lamar

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Gun-Filled Weekend Prompts APD Action
Gun-Filled Weekend Prompts APD Action
Spring fest unrest

Mike Clark-Madison, March 22, 2019

SXSW Film Review: Midnight Shorts
Film Review: Midnight Shorts
The best of the fest's late night micro-horrors

Jenny Nulf, March 20, 2019

More by Beth Sullivan
SXSW Music Featured Session: Laura Jane Grace, Our Lady of Punk, Devours SXSW
SXSW Music Featured Session: Laura Jane Grace, Our Lady of Punk, Devours SXSW
Against Me! founder on the “demonstrable power of punk”

March 15, 2019

<i>Queering</i> Puts a New Spin on the Coming Out Story
Queering Puts a New Spin on the Coming Out Story
Leticia De Bortoli's web series depicts two generations of LGBTQ-ness

March 14, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

SXSW, SXSW 2019, SXSW Film 2019, Annabelle Attanasio, Mickey and the Bear, Opioid epidemic

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle