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It’s not surprising that the director of Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler would bring another shockingly brilliant film to the theaters. Black Swan is a very moving, intense experience and plays with many perplexing ideas as it tells the story of a ballerina gone mad.
The storyline follows Nina, a young ballerina played by Natalie Portman who is striving for the lead roll in her prestigious company’s production of Swan Lake. Their version of the classic ballet is marginalized; the lead roll of the Swan Queen will play both the white and black swans. In short, the ballet is a story of a love triangle, ending in a tragic suicide. This storyline coupled with some foreshadowing of ballerinas past sets Nina up for a spiraling performance that is incredibly believable.
Darren Aronofsky’s directing gives the movie what it needs to seamlessly blend the worlds of dancing and acting – choreography and cinematography. Immediately, the camera work takes the audience up in a whirlwind, and you almost feel like you’re swaying right along with the dancers.
While Nina’s delicate persona fits that of the White Swan, throughout the movie, she is harshly and abusively encouraged by her ballet director, Thomas Leroy, played by Vincent Cassel. While his accent leaves him sounding like a French Christopher Walken, his role in the movie is crucial to Nina’s development and descent into the persona of the Black Swan.
Mila Kunis plays a fellow competing ballerina in Nina’s company, and the story of Swan Lake becomes a parallel to the plot of the movie, again highlighting the likeness of the worlds of acting and dancing.
Nina’s mother, played by Barbara Hershey, is just as taxing on the young ballerina. She keeps Nina in a room fitting for a twelve-year-old and keeps a constant, corrective eye on her.
From the dance studios to the home interiors, many of the scenes in Black Swan involve mirrors. The shots are all very well composed, enhancing the symbolism of the mirror in the film. Concepts of reflections and ability to see others within yourself are played with both abstractly and literally as Nina’s psychotic behavior intensifies throughout the film. Her hallucinations keep the viewer on the edge of the seat, constantly questioning the reality of the moment they are being shown. Portman’s character also struggles with her own reality, giving the viewer an amazing performance and a brilliantly questionable validity.
Body image is another running theme in Black Swan. Surely anyone can guess that being a professional dancer would come with a spotlight on one’s physical appearance, but the film highlights these issues, making them both grotesque and fascinating. Sounds of body movements, breathing, and dancing are all amplified, creating even more intensity. Backs, feet, and skin are emphasized, and the rail-thin bodies of the dancers border between graceful and disconcerting. Bulimia and self-mutilation are also addressed.
Sexuality is also very important as both liberation for Nina and a as facet of her new dark identity that needs to be explored. Like nearly every other part of Black Swan, nothing good happens without the bad, and vice versa.
As Nina becomes more entangled in her role for the ballet, she definitely loses herself and her mind. A psychotic alter-ego develops, setting up the classic dichotomy of good verses evil – the black and white swans. This internal struggle that manifests itself physically and mentally in Nina’s life ties the movie’s themes together very well. The two plotlines of the ballet and the film are also excellent; though similar, the likeness is not redundant or simplistic.
The actors all did an incredible job with this one, and I left the theater with a similar feeling as I had after watching Aronofsky’s other films – awestruck, a little disturbed, and amazed. If you’re in the mood to be impressed… but possibly grossed out, definitely go see Black Swan before it’s gone.
If the previous movies in the Focker series seemed pointless, Little Fockers only plunges this story deeper into the abyss of embarrassingly low brow humor.
The main topic of jest: erectile dysfunction. So, if you’re looking for a movie to create tons of awkward moments for you and whoever agreed to be dragged into the theater with you, you’ve hit your gold mine. Every other scene had some ridiculous moment involving someone’s penis. No, thanks.
The new characters thrown into the family mix to spice things up can’t save the film. Jessica Alba plays a young, hip pharmaceutical salesperson whose primary role in the movie is to annoy and aggravate everyone with whom she comes into contact. She’s the stereotypical teenybopper airhead, greeting Ben Stiller’s character with “Hey, superstar!” and a series of annoyingly affectionate gestures. The sexual tension and stupid persona get old very quickly.
Robert De Niro has some parts that just left me either scratching my head or sighing, wondering just how much they had to pay him to do all the embarrassing things in Little Fockers. His character maintains the skeptical, CIA-trained exterior, keeping all eyes on Ben Stiller. Add in some more ED humor, and you’ve got yourself a horrible movie.
Stiller’s family was the expected hippie, happy-go-lucky, trying-to-stay-cool couple. The mother runs a talk show about sex, and the father has taken a crazy adventure to learn Flamenco-style dancing. You’d think names like Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand would have added better things to this movie, but it’s still lacking a lot.
Owen Wilson’s appearance didn’t help any. I’m already not a huge fan considering his characters have little variability from movie to movie (although the same can be said for many actors). If you didn’t guess it already, Wilson’s role is the character that upstages Stiller in every way, all the while remaining calm, cool, and collected… and rich. Stiller’s two five-year-old kids are having a birthday party, and during Wilson’s free time between volunteering at the local soup kitchen, his character takes part in throwing them the most lavish birthday party of the century complete with acrobatics, huge statues of the twins’ faces, and a setting that could have been filmed at Jacko’s Neverland Ranch.
The worst part is that the ending definitely alludes to a sequel. Expect more low brow comedy in the future.
I only laughed a couple times during the movie, and none of the jokes were anything you had to put much thought into. It was either slapstick or just based on sex, neither of which take much outside information to get. Maybe I was just expecting too much, but Little Fockers was just a waste of money. I wouldn’t have watched it for free on TV, and I regret potentially funding another Focker-related film. Enough with the regurgitated theme! I think it’s time this series bowed out semi-gracefully and ended.