Reviews: Black Swan

A little too Black and White.

First, let me say: All the Aronofsky hallmarks are here. The almost too-close closeups, the physical injuries representing the character's deteriorating inner state, the brutal look at how great a toll being "the best" can take on someone determined enough to lose everything for their goal.

The problem? Among other things, our heroine has little enough to lose, and it's not a far drop to 'outright violent lunacy.' That Nina is pre-unhinged yet positively terrified of everything makes it seem heavy-handed at best when her 'change' begins; it doesn't feel natural, nor does it have the terrifying descent into madness and isolation that could be found at the other extreme. Instead it settles for shock value, like an aspiring director being edgy for edgy's sake. Nina's relationship with her mother has brief moments of clarity but is too quickly sacrificed for stage-mother cliches, then glossed over; the little-girl bedroom makes the overdone club scene feel less dangerous and more tacky, Lily is little more than a too-obvious bull in the china-shop of Nina's innocence/naivete, and Thomas - while interesting - is chained to the Casting Couch cliche.

I liked Pi. I cried in Requiem For A Dream and The Wrestler. Black Swan had more in common with The Fountain. Aronofsky is adept at making us care and fear and weep for characters, but only if they come with the visceral reality of the 'real world' to ground them. Black Swan, like The Fountain, suffers from too little connection to reality, and the resulting movie seems disjointed and contrived. It has its moments: The gore is startling, the dance and costumes beautiful, the score as good as ever. But at times I found myself wishing the Scare Chord would cut it out so I could hear the music, and that's how I felt about the movie: Out of the way, talked-about lesbian scene and darkening-of-outfits-to-obviously-portray-inner-self! When Natalie Portman begs her mom not to trash the cake because really, she loves it, thank you! That's the uncomfortable, bordering-on-painful drama I want, not the melodrama I got.

I saw it in part because of the hype; now I'm thinking the most accurate critical review was The Hollywood Reporter's "guilty pleasure," though it wasn't even that for me. Not because of the actors; because of the director's choices.