The plot of Darren Aronofosky’sBlack Swan
is similar to that of his elegiac The Wrestler
: talented athlete faces greatest challenge despite obstacles, namely self. Which is basically the plot of any Disney movie, and perhaps if Black Swan
were animated, it might not come off so ludicrously. Natalie Portman is Nina, a prudish ballerina under the thumb of both her mother (Barbara Hershey) and her teacher (Vincent Cassel, riffing on every male ballet teacher ever portrayed in film or on Law and Order: Criminal Intent
). She is given the lead in Swan Lake
but can’t access her dark side, the Black Swan, and has a breakdown trying. Mila Kunis appears as a rival---the misleading ads want you to think she’s also a Sapphic love interest---and, as the veteran overthrown by Nina, Winona Ryder, who’s been running a string of batshit support roles that suggest a potentially thrilling reinvention for the actor into her 40s. Such garish, visually arresting vulgarity from the man who introduced “ass-to-ass” into cinematic vernacular is no surprise, but everything Aronofsky learned about restraint and space on The Wrestler
has been eschewed for humourless, sci-fi melodrama set to a twitchy, intrusive score Hans Zimmer would find heavy-handed. Portman starved and trained for months to play Nina, and she’ll probably get an Oscar for it---maybe that will be the bright spot in this joyless stumble.