In the words of John Lennon, life is what happens when you are making other plans. And life for a gay Madrid dentist named Pedro (José Luis García-Pérez) in...

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In the words of John Lennon, life is what happens when you are making other plans. And life for a gay Madrid dentist named Pedro (José Luis García-Pérez) in Miguel Albaladejo’s comedy/drama “Bear Cub” means unexpected parenthood. Pedro’s happy with his routine — work, friends, sex, drugs — but doesn’t mind cleaning up his act for a couple of weeks, when his beloved 9-year-old nephew Bernardo (David Castillo) comes for a visit. When Bernardo’s traveling mother (Elvira Lindo) is suddenly unable to return for him, Pedro realizes that this temporary life change just might be permanent, and he must learn to be true to himself while providing stability for his nephew.

“Bear Cub” is ultimately about the transforming power of love — in this case, between an uncle and nephew who briefly create a life with each other, until circumstances (in the form of a scheming grandmother, played by Empar Ferrer) force them apart again. And while the film’s heart is clearly in the right place, it struggles a bit to find the right tone, veering from casual, low-key realism to tear-jerking melodrama toward the end, with characters directly addressing the camera.

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***


“Bear Cub,” with José Luis García-Pérez, David Castillo, Elvira Lindo, Empar Ferrer. Directed by Miguel Albaladejo, from a screenplay by Albaladejo and Salvador García Ruiz. 95 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains sexuality, nudity and drug use). In Spanish with English subtitles. Harvard Exit.



But the film is anchored by a charming, understated chemistry between García-Pérez and Castillo, who nicely depict a man trying to do the right thing and a boy, mature beyond his years, who’s accustomed to taking care of the unstable adults around him. When Bernardo learns his mother (who’s depicted as a flighty bohemian with drug troubles of her own) won’t be coming back for a long time, he becomes quiet. Then he demands that his floppy hair be cut short, like his uncle. As Pedro wields the clippers, the boy stares unblinkingly into the mirror, as if willing himself to become more grown-up.

“Bear Cub” touches on a number of hot-button issues — gay parenting, single parenting, living with HIV-positive status, kids and drugs — but does so in such a low-key manner, it avoids preachiness while quietly relaying wisdom. In a touching, wistful epilogue, set three years later, a shining-eyed Bernardo becomes a symbol of hope for a better future — an adult emerging before our eyes, shaped by those who have loved him.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com