Professional ballet entails a lot of competitiveness -- but madness too? This is the theme of Black Swan, a none-too-subtle melodrama about sanity and Swan Lake.

Nina (Natalie Portman) is a shy member of a New York City ballet company. When its artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) retires the company star Beth (Winona Ryder), he decides the next performance will be a radical version of Swan Lake, with the lead dancer playing both the innocent, doomed White Swan and the evil, sexual Black Swan. And the lead goes to Nina.

Unfortunately, Nina has more issues than a magazine stand. She lives with her supportive-yet-smothering mother Erica (Barbare Hershey), a former dancer. Thomas tells Nina that she is technically perfect but needs more passion; he tries to bring this out through sexual comments -- and actions. New company member Lily (Mila Kunis) seems to be the opposite of Lily: less technically sound, but more passionate. And Nina may or may not be scratching and cutting herself. Then there are those pesky hallucinations...

Nina, like her new role, has multiple sides. If this isn't made clear through the dialogue, the near-omnipresent mirrors reflecting Nina's image will drive that point home. So will the jarring blasts of music and quick chords that go along with every surprise, fear, or vision that Nina has: being chased, plucking feathers out of her back, sexual encounters, etc.

Natalie Portman is a fine actor, but here the situations and dialogue seem so blown up that Black Swan is more silly than suspenseful. Since there's no real mystery or building-up of the hallucinations, there's not a crescendo of madness as much as a continuation. The dancing is beautiful, and Mila Kunis is a nice, relaxed foil to the neurotic performance of Portman, but Black Swan has too much hysterical drama to be taken seriously.

Overall grade: C-
Reviewed by James Lynch

No comments: