In a nutshell: Mummy’s girl jerks off in a bid for perfection.
Popcorn rating: 3.5/5
Darren Aronofsky’s latest foray into the agitated mind of a perfectionist seems to have divided film goers. Some have lauded it as a top thriller/horror while others have deemed it more shlock than shock and a real let down after The Wrestler. This time, instead of Mickey Rourke’s ageing wrestler sacrificing body and mind to desperately cling onto fame, we have Natalie Portman’s ambitious-to-the-death ballerina’s descent into madness, all in the name of the spotlight.
Portman, who has visibly put herself through the paces to get into the skinny, taut body of a young ballerina, plays Nina Sayers – a mummy’s girl dancer who has put everything, friendships, boys, growing up, on hold to achieve her ambition of becoming principle dancer in her New York ballet company. Her dream comes within grasp when lead ballerina, the gorgeously deranged Beth (Winona Ryder) is put out to pasture and artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel on mean, moody Frenchman mode, as per) casts his net for someone to play the lead in a new production of Swan Lake.
That’s when the real fun begins. Angelic Beth-wannabe Nina seems to be a shoe-in for the role of the virginal White Swan – but does the mollycoddled little princess have the necessary darkness to play the evil Black Swan? Especially when new competition, bad girl dancer Lily (Mila Kunis hamming it up wonderfully as the femme fatale), arrives on the scene in a fog of sex and drugs and sultry looks.
From the beginning, Black Swan enjoys teasing the viewer, playing out its twists and turns with relish – from Nina tearing at her own flesh in grisly detail through to the horror staple of having characters appear suddenly in a darkened corner. Yip, watching Nina unravel proves to be pretty compulsive viewing, even if you are trying to hide your eyes for the bloodier scenes. This Black Swan doesn’t pull her punches. She teases, she bites, she claws and slowly, uncertainly she loses her mind, bringing us along for the ride. She also, however; takes herself a little too seriously.
Portman obviously threw herself heart and soul into this role but intensity bedamned, Nina is just too twee to really engage with. All those teddies and pink and frilly cakes and mumsiness. No wonder none of the other dancers want to befriend her, she’s a right oddball, like a female version of Norman Bates. And not in an interesting way either. In fact, Nina’s so ill-makingly cutesy that when anything remotely sexual or untoward does happen, it’s giggle inducing – which doesn’t just reduce the tension, it deflates it. Like the scene where Nina is in bed and decides to follow her teacher’s advice only to get half way through and realise mummy’s asleep in the chair beside her? Titter, titter. Or that old guy groping himself on the subway? Urgh, titter, titter?
All in all, Black Swan isn’t a bad yarn; if anything it will certainly keep you guessing until its bittersweet end. You just probably won’t want to bother with it a second time.
*It gets an extra 0.5 point for the fantastic make-up job on the Black Swan.