Home Video Hovel: What Would Bear Do? by Josh Long
There is probably a surprising disparity between the people who watch Man vs. Wild or Survivorman and the survival experts who host those shows. Though the shows might like to make audiences feel like they’re better equipped to brave the wilderness on their own, there’s a big difference between sitting on the couch, and actually roughing it. Josh Folan’s bro comedy What Would Bear Do? takes two of the least likely survival experts, and puts them in the heart of the wilderness. Will their study of survival TV be enough to keep them (and their girlfriends) from dying in the woods?
That’s the set up, but it ends up being most of the plot too. Vaughn and Taylor are stoners who live in Taylor’s Mom’s basement. Vaughn loses his job, and his girlfriend threatens to dump him. The two decide that to prove to their girlfriends they can “man up,” they will try to survive in the wilderness and send in a video of their efforts to their TV idol, “Bear” (a fictional show, but an obvious reference to Bear Grylls of Man vs. Wild). The girls go along with it seemingly in hopes that their boyfriends will win the contest, and the money that comes with it.
The actors portraying the guys (Avery Pearson and writer/director Josh Folan) are definitely giving their all. They stick to an over-the-top portrayal, their constant stream of “bros” and “dudes” is consistent, if not always funny. They seem to know these characters and portray them with conviction. The movie, unfortunately, suffers from several other problems that overshadow the performances.
The first and most obvious is the pacing, which is far too slow. The film takes far too long to actually get out into the woods, wasting too much time in the drab basement location, and in overly long scenes with Taylor’s brother (barely a minor supporting character). In a movie that runs just over 80 minutes, it takes over 20 before there are even any scenes outside of Taylor’s house. Once in the woods, the film has a more solid footing, but the pacing is still not quick enough to serve the type of comedy in the script. What should be quick back-and-forth dialogues between characters become lengthy scenes that drain the movie of its energy.
This might be overlooked if it wasn’t for the fact that there is very little development in the story. After 5 minutes of the film, we realize that the guys are losers, love watching Bear, and are aware of the contest. It’s another 15 minutes before the next plot development, convincing the girls to go along. Another 10 minutes to get to the woods, then once in the woods, there are very few actual story beats. Taylor’s girlfriend reveals that she is pregnant, but the revelation never supplies any actual conflict. Later in the film, it seems that Vaughn’s girlfriend may be poisoned, and the boys are forced to do something to save her. While this is a good development (both raising the stakes and forcing the guys to overcome their slacker attitudes) the conflict is too little too late.
In another unfulfilling turn, we find that the guys aren’t really that inept in the wild after all. They are able to determine directions without a compass, find water, find high ground, build a shelter, and forage for edible bugs (the bugs do lead to a funny sequence where the guys film each other eating them). The comedy of two ne’er-do-wells lost in the woods is dulled when it turns out that they’re not all that bad at taking care of themselves.
While the characters of the guys seem lived-in and believable, the girls are not; Vaughn’s girlfriend Rachel in particular seems to swing drastically between supportive girlfriend and vindictive bitch. At one point, it seems that Vaughn has won her over a bit by surprising her with his skills – which would make sense, except that she later shifts completely back to her old nasty self, with little provocation. It is good to have the girls there, both as a foil to their boyfriends, and a reason for the boys to prove themselves. But they seem to serve as little more than that. The girls’ own intentions, goals, and personalities range from undefined to unbelievable.
While this doesn’t necessarily denote a bad movie, it is clear that the film is done on a shoe-string budget. Apart from some cool time lapse shots (and a very good opening credits sequence), the constraints are obvious, and at times distracting. Again, just because a movie’s budget is low doesn’t mean it has to be bad (see my review of Resolution), but in this case, the script isn’t able to overcome the movie’s low-scale feel.
I can’t fault the concept – loser stoners in the woods, trying to be survival experts is a funny set up. Unfortunately, What Would Bear Do? doesn’t deliver what most audiences will expect from a silly bro comedy. The languid pacing and lack of development hampers potentially funny characters and any funny bits of dialogue (which there are definitely several, though I wouldn’t say lots). If you’re looking for a laugh-a-minute comedy, this one’s not for you. If you’re looking for a low-budget comedy with a good core concept, it’s here, but may not deliver in the way you’d hope.