I’m just gonna come right out and say it — am I the only person who was just a little bit disappointed with this flick?
I know, I know — after Natalie Portman walking off with the best actress award at the Golden Globes last night this hardly puts me in the “popular opinion” camp. And I don’t want to slag her performance off in the least. She’s really solid as a hyper-competetive ballerina losing herself into the darker side of her starring role in “Swan Lake” and trying to hold onto her sanity as she explores a side to her nature she’s always kept under control. When she truly lets herself go and become the titular black swan, the resulting transformation from calm, cool, and collected to ferociously alluring is downright incredible . And so was everyone else in it, to be honest. Mila Kunis is terrific as her possiblly-looking-to-usurp-her “friend.” Vincent cassel is by turns understandably creepy and flat-out creepy as her boss at the ballet. Winona Ryder — who I didn’t even know was in the film — is great as the mentally-and-physically broken former lead dancer of the troupe. And Barbara Hershey turns in possibly the stongest performance in the entire film as Portman’s neurotic mother.
In addition, director Darren Aronofsky is back in top form here. After losing himself underneath heaping mountains of auteurism in The Fountain and then reigning in his strong visual and stylistic instincts a bit too much with The Wrestler, he really seems to have found his voice again here and turns in his best directorial effort since Requiem for a Dream. Aronofsky has a very real talent for bringing out the best in all his performers — always has — and that’s never been on display more grandly than it is here.
So why did I leave the theater feeling a bit flat about the whole thing? Good question.
Maybe it’s just that my expectations had been pumped up so high — in fact, I’m sure that’s a big part of it, and it’s not fair in the least to judge Black Swan based on all the incredible buzz that’s been swirling around it. Hey, they can’t help it if people loved the movie and have been saying so at top volume. But mostly, I think, what left me feeling a little bit lukewarm to the proceedings was the fact that this type of story has been done before and, frankly, better.
Both Roman Polanski’s criminally-underrated The Tenant and, more recently, David Lynch’s Inland Empire dealt with similar subject matter — sure, in The Tenant the title character was “turning into” his dead predecessor in the apartment, aided and abetted (perhaps) by the other residents of the building, but the idea of losing oneself in another persona was the same. And with Inland Empire the parallels are even more striking, as Laura Dern and Justin Theroux literally find themselves becoming the characters they’re portraying in a film production.
So I guess my main “beef,” if you will, with Black Swan is that this isn’t particularly new thematic territory to be mining, and it’s following in the footsteps of some better — if less universally-lauded — work that concerned itself with largely the same type of thing.
I don’t want to give the wrong impression here — I definitely think this is a film most folks will enjoy the heck out of and that everyone should see. the striking performances alone are more than worth it. But if I could offer just one piece of advice, it would be this — temper your expectations a bit. There’s plenty to enjoy here, but there’s nothing actually new going on.