I don’t do requests often. Not because I think I’m above ’em. I just don’t get ’em. So, when the request to finally review Black Swan came in, I pounced on it, like a tramp on a loose fiver blowing down the street. I’m not sure why I haven’t reviewed it until now. In fact, many of the 2011 Oscar winners haven’t been covered on this blog. I’ve seen most of them too. Hmm. Anyway, Portman dun wun a purdy statchoo for this’un, so I guess I’d better comment. I realise this is like shouting “Freebird!” two weeks after a concert has ended, but roll with it.
It may be because I fancy myself as a blockbuster revolutionary/moron (come at me, bro) but I felt Black Swan was daring me to dislike it from the off. Due to its status and quality it felt as if I didn’t like it, I would be officially thick. On the surface, it’s doing everything it can to pander to Uncle Oscar. It’s about ballet, it’s starring a famous actress giving a “serious” turn and it’s directed by Darren Aronarrow’tatersinyerbarrownofsky, the man behind the not dissimilar The Wrestler and the suicidally depressing Requiem for a Dream. This had “prestige picture” written on the script before the ink was dry on the title.
“I just want to be perfect.”
Black Swan is the story of Nina (Natalie Portman), a dedicated ballerina who, whilst technically brilliant, is deemed to lack the passion needed to dance the darker side of the dual lead role of the Swan Queen in her company’s production of Swan Lake. She has an overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) who lives vicariously through her daughter’s dancing and a strict director (Vincent Cassel) to contend with. Things change somewhat for Nina when new dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) joins the fray and possesses a natural spark perfectly suited to the role of the Black Swan. Whilst at times very predictable, I must admit I was pretty captivated by the story. It’s a nightmarish, twisted version of Swan Lake run through the eyes of someone who’s seen Suspiria way too much. As much as this means coming from an amateur critic with too much time on his hands, Portman’s performance is worthy of the Oscar. Nina is fragile, but not to the point being spineless. She has a bit of chutzpah about her, just has trouble expressing it because it’s almost been entirely squashed out of her by her mum. I thought Vincent Cassel was good too, giving a new definition to the term “smarmy bastard”. I wasn’t so taken with Mila Kunis. I’ve never been convinced by her acting-wise and I just don’t think she fits here. The emphasis on Lily’s “normality” is too much at times, which gave me a weird uncanny feeling. It looks and sounds perfectly normal, there’s just that one element that creeped me out.
Subtlety is not this film’s strongest point. We’re talking first year Media Studies with some of this shite. I hope you get that black can represent evil, whilst white can be used to suggest good, because this film hits you over the head with it again and again. Most of the creepy scenes work well, but a couple take it too far and ruined the tension. There’s a scene where Nina is dancing on her own and (invisotext) the lights go out, leads to a standard Hollywood horror mainstay- the “Hello? Is anyone there?” moment. She then discovers Lily being royally screwed by the director, who then turns into the demon Rothbart for a very generic jump scare. In terms of bad things- the bit where the various drawings of Nina come to life was terrible. Reminded me too much of that shit “Fear Her” episode of Doctor Who All in all though, the film is most successful in being generally creepy. I thought some of the body metamorphosis stuff was well done, although owing a lot to The Fly. The third act is where Aronofsky goes mental and the one dance (you’ll know it if you’ve seen it) of the Black Swan is amazing. I was blown away by how well it was done. The music at this point is also fucking awesome.
As with some of the horror moments, I feel the film goes a little too far with the characters, specifically Winona Ryder’s aged starlet, Beth. I like Ryder a lot, but this burnt out has-been character has been done too often to make any real impact. I felt the whole subplot involving her needed to be trimmed. But, maybe I’m nit-picking too much. As a psychological horror, it works pretty well. It’s one of those films that stays with you days after viewing. I like the fact that the film also doesn’t offer any easy answers to what happens. All too often films resolve the questions they ask without any room for interpretation. As for the ballet, I’m aware that the negative aspects of it have been ramped up, but Christ. All that dedication and all those regular injuries don’t look like fun.
“The only person standing in your way is you. It’s time to let her go. Lose yourself.”
Black Swan. It won’t be for everyone. It’s very well shot and acted. That’s a given. The psychological aspect works well and the choreography impressed me. It’s not the perfect film that poncy types would have you believe it is and some of the more obvious flaws stopped me from getting fully on board with it. Still- very good. Not that you need me to tell you. It’s been out bloody ages.