A Review of Black Swan Like None You’ve Ever Read
I’m finally giving in, after myriad friends who knew I once trained at the School of the Pennsylvania Ballet have cornered me at social events to ask conspiratorially, “What did you think of Black Swan?” (Note, they almost gasp when inquiring.) I have decided to officially state that I believe Black Swan — director Darren Aronofsky’s movie about a ballerina and her possibly imaginary rival– is a parody of the highest order.
If Neil LaBute, Roman Polanski, and Woody Allen morphed and Allen happened to have a serious woody for ballet dancers — both the sensuality of the physical abandon and the fantasy of deflowering a virgin queen — Aronofsky could be considered their love child.
Yes, I’ve heard it all about how Natalie Portman, who plays a corps de ballet dancer given the title dual role of white/black swan in Swan Lake, throws herself into her role and the rigor drives her insane before our eyes. She peels her cuticles bloody through sheer anxiety (I have done this too in rehearsal spaces.) She bites the predatory wolf of a choreographer (Vincent Cassel), who makes a pass at her in a back office. (To note: Based on friends’ stories at SAB (**) straight male choreographers do rightly share this reputation.) Still, despite such grains of truth, the way Aronfsky exaggerates each stereotype takes this movie way over the top. Natalie’s character lifts her swan arms up many times as though she’s praying to imaginary angels. She attempts to masturbate in her pink bedroom only to see her mom, portrayed by the wonderful Barbara Hershey (who also tries to ply her with pink buttercream frosting), asleep in a chair by the bed. She thinks her mother’s wall drawings are screaming at her. She takes a roofie (or some pill ) the night before her big performance. And she lets a rival dancer Mila Kunis go down on her, while I imagine Aronofsky’s camera was perched just a foot away. I would like to give a secret wink regarding the casting of Winona Ryder as a washed up ballerina. The nutter, upset that she’s no longer the choreographer’s “princess” (hiss on the “ssss” please), throws herself in front of a bus. Meanwhile, her designated replacement, Natalie, is stealing her blood red lipsticks from a backstage dressing room. This stuff is pure comedic gold.
I realize that all the critics I’ve read see Black Swan as an art house thriller and it does thrill visually. But as a former dance trainee who also met Aronofsky years ago at the Tribeca Grand Hotel when he screened his fave film of the moment, All That Jazz by Bob Fosse, I propose this film is one boy’s fantasy fun house.
One dismayed pal wrote to me after the New York premiere. “An entire film about a cutter with an eating disorder! Please!” I laughed when I read it, and in a sense I agree. But, the fact that Aronofsky can turn that into something along the scale of a Japanese Godzilla movie with hysterical or monstrous women and an alpha male, credits it in my book as a work of sheer genius.
It’s a total crack up.
(**) Endote: SAB stands for School of the American Ballet