Reviews For The Easily Distracted:
Black Swan

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Title: Black Swan

Did Mila Kunis And Natalie Portman Really Lose 20 Pounds For This? That's the story. Kunis actually went from a a chubby 115 to a svelte 95 pounds.

"Chubby?" That's A Little Harsh, Isn't It? Not in Prima Ballerina World, pal.

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Why Is That Name Familiar? Requiem for a Dream and The Fountain, most likely. Adjust your expectations accordingly.

Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three ecstasy pills out of five.

Brief Plot Synposis Nina (Natalie Portman) is finally poised to dance lead in her company's upcoming production. But when a mysterious rival (Kunis) emerges, Nina is forced to explore her dark side, with...curious results.

Not So Brief Plot Synposis: As emotionally stunted as she is technically gifted, Nina finally gets her big chance to dance lead in the company's upcoming production when the venerable Beth (Winona Ryder) is put out to pasture. Artistic director Thomas (Vincent Cassel), knows Nina can dance the part of the innocent White Swan, but doubts her ability to summon the necessary inner darkness to portray the Black Swan. Enter Lily, whose effortless amorality impresses Thomas, forcing Nina to plumb her own dark side to counter Lily's (real or imagined) attempts to usurp her position.

Why Does All This Sound Familiar? Nina was also the name of the ballerina in that Abba song:

No, That's Not It Are you sure? It's a damn catchy tune.

Stop It! Fine, the movie is an update of Tchaikovsky's famous ballet. Swan Lake is the story of a princess turned into a swan by a sorcerer. Only love can break the spell, but her prince falls for the wrong woman (the Black Swan) and she ends up killing herself. More or less.

"Critical" Analysis: At once reminiscent of Kubrick and Polanski (especially Repulsion, right down to the creepy apartment), Black Swan seems like it can't decide if it wants to be a "pyschological thriller" or a somewhat glossier than average trashy horror movie.

Nina is already something of a head case: presumably a 20-something woman, she still lives at home with her overbearing ex-ballerina mother (who doesn't at all hold a grudge at giving up her career to raise a child, heavens no) in a room filled with stuffed animals and pink bedding. There are also allusions to past incidents of self-harm. This makes it difficult, at first, to figure out if Nina has somehow unleashed forces of darkness.

As the film progresses and Nina and Lily strike up an oddly antagonistic friendship, her episodes become increasingly hallucinatory. Aronofsky walks a thin line between horror and camp, and occasionally veers too much into the latter's territory. The indicators of Nina's burgeoning insanity are more effective when subtle, like when they made me turn to my wife and say, "Did I just see that?"

She's a tragic figure (by definition, if you know the story of the ballet), and Portman portrays her in a surprisingly effective and sympathetic manner. "Surprisingly" is probably unfair, because my most vivid memories of her are still the Star Wars prequels, which made even decent actors like Ewan McGregor and Terence Stamps look like idiots.

But then, nobody in the cast disappoints: Cassel's Thomas is as outwardly aggressive as he is ultimately craven; Barbara Hershey appears to have the potential to be an effective villain, but pales next to Nina's alter ego (and if she and Requiem's Ellen Burstyn are at all representative of Aronofsky's real life mother...my condolences); and Kunis is the biggest revelation of all. Known primarily for playing "Meg" on Family Guy, she brings a depth to Lily I honestly didn't expect.

And I suppose I should mention the months of training both Portman and Kunis underwent to convincingly portray ballet dancers. Because everyone else is.

Black Swan stumbles at the end, turning excessively melodramatic after effectively building suspense through visual and auditory red herrings (the club scene could have been lifted from Jacob's Ladder). It isn't enough to completely derail what is an otherwise visually arresting, well-put together movie, but what we're left with is something less intriguing than superior Aronofsky works like Requiem and The Fountain.

See It/Rent It/Skip It: Rent it. It's worth a look, and at home you'll (hopefully) be free of young men present solely for the lesbian scene.

Swan Lake is in theaters today. Whoever you see it with, buy them a sandwich.

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