Thursday, July 14, 2011
This psychological thriller [or whatever you want to call it] with a ballet backdrop features all the usual elements of such movies: a dancer falling for her teacher; jealous rivalries among dancers; and so on, then adds a twist in that the lead character, Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman), who is dancing the role of the swan in a new production of Swan Lake, is mentally unraveling as the date of her debut in the role rapidly approaches. She begins to have strange, sometimes sexual, and often violent hallucinations. Just as the character she portrays in the ballet has a light and dark side, so does Nina, with tragic results. Portman deservedly won an Oscar for her portrayal, and she is the glue that makes the film the riveting twaddle that it is. But despite its good points -- including the fact that it is absorbing and very well acted [Barbara Hershey, Mila Kunis, Vincent Cassel, and Winona Ryder are also excellent in important supporting roles] -- Black Swan is a bit overwrought and occasionally silly, threatening to collapse into [literal] hysterics at any moment. A girl-on-girl sex scene seems to have been thrown in for all the wrong reasons, and does nothing to delineate character. [If the implication is that this is one more indication of Nina embracing her "dark" side, it's a bit regressive, but I suppose it could also suggest she's shedding her inhibitions. But why have a gay sex scene, even a fantasy, without real gay characters? It's like the filmmakers said, "guys won't want to take their girlfriends to a film about ballet, but when they find out it has two chicks gettin' it on...!"] Ultimately, Black Swan holds the attention but its chief appeal is Portman's and the other performances. It's undeniably arresting, but doesn't hold up under close scrutiny.
Verdict: Portman and the rest of the cast deserve kudos. ***.