PROS: Natalie Portman isn’t just beautiful, she will act the crap out of you. Mila Kunis turns out to be way more talented than the stuff she’s better known for would lead you to believe. For a movie about ballet dancing, it’s not completely boring like you may think.
CONS: It took a little while to warm up. I assume there is some joy to be had in ballet, but here you get mostly just crushed souls. Wanted to punch the ballet coach in the face most of the time.
PRO/CON DEPENDING ON YOUR PERSPECTIVE: For a film nominated for five Academy Awards, there’s a lot more fingerbanging in it than you’d think.
THINGS I LIKED: No matter what you think about ballet, Natalie Portman will move you unless you’re just dead inside. The way she cracks was amazing and a little unsettling to watch. I watched Hostel and never cringed once, but Nina’s fingernail maintenance sent a goddamned shiver down my spine.
NITPICKS: All things considered I still couldn’t give a shit about ballet.
I’ll say right up front what you may have gathered by now – I did not pick this movie. My wife and I have a lot of overlap in what we like, but it isn’t always the case. So, sometimes she sits through a movie with zombies in it, and sometimes I sit through Black Swan…when we do this, each gives the target movie a chance and doesn’t just play with their smartphone the whole time, because that’s just good marriage-ing. I didn’t have high hopes for a movie revolving around what to me is one of the duller forms of art, but I like Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis, so I settled back and let myself get into it.
This turned out to be a good thing. The movie is, in a nutshell, a story about a young woman who pushes herself to such an extreme degree that she begins to unravel. She’s a ballerina in a company gearing up for a performance of Swan Lake. I admit that while I’d heard of it, I knew nothing about Swan Lake. Helpfully, the skeevy ballet director dumps the exposition to a bunch of ballet dancers who are actually trying out for it, which was kind of hamfisted but it did manage to sum up Swan Lake’s plot for the 99% of people in the audience who most likely had no idea. I won’t try and recap it here because honestly I’ve already forgotten it – for the purposes for this film, what you need to know is that there is a white swan in it, and a black swan. The white swan is pure and good, etc. and the black swan is more of a sultry seductress. I *think* that generally these parts are played by two different dancers and that it was the skeevy director’s twist to have the same dancer portray both…we end up with Natalie Portman’s Nina competing with Mila Kunis’ Lily for the coveted part. Nina is perfect for the white swan, but is too wound up to be a good black swan…she’s all technique and no passion. In order for her to get the role and pull it off, she has to break out of her shell and find her dark side.
She does. Like, big time. I don’t know if it’s just the stress of being a dancer, her home life, or her pushing herself too far outside her comfort zone that starts to drive her batshit insane…maybe all of the above. I have to say this again because it bears repeating; there have been few times in a movie where I felt a character’s pain so keenly and I have to credit Natalie Portman with that. Mila Kunis is really good too – I’d seen her on That 70’s Show and heard her as the voice of ‘Meg’ in Family Guy…part of me thought that would make it hard to take her seriously but I didn’t think about either of those things once during the movie. She’s good.
I won’t spoil what happens in the movie, but I will say that watching Nina go to pieces was actually kind of fascinating. Still want to hit the director (of the film’s version of Swan Lake, not the director of Black Swan) with a chair, though…although that is kind of a credit to Vincent Cassel – he played him so well it just made my toes curl whenever he put his greasy hands on Nina.
So, I went into it thinking I wasn’t going to like it, and ended up actually getting pretty invested in it. Since I am clearly not its target audience, I have to give kudos all around to everyone involved. I’d even recommend it to my parents to watch, if not for the aforementioned fingerbanging.
BOTTOM LINE: I would never have watched this on my own, but all tallied up I’m totally glad I did.