A Prime Candidate for ‘Most Overrated of the Year’

Alex: Okay, I’m gonna say it. Ready?

Black Swan sucks! It just fucking sucks!!

Only twice does this movie come alive: in the opening sequence and then, near the end, during the transformation dance. (If you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about.) Those sequences are when director Darren Aronofsky allows himself to be Darren Aronofsky.

The rest of the time he’s being Bergman, Hitchcock, Michael Powell, and M. Night Shyamalan. (I’m not joking about that last one; MNS reinvented the cinematic spooky moment. Or maybe he just refined it.) The cliches in this movie rack up so quickly that you think the whole thing is going to topple — but then it transforms into a different kind of movie with a whole new set of cliches.

Now, I’m all for mobilizing cliche. I’m all for using it and re-purposing it or commenting on it. Or even indulging in it. I thought Shutter Island did all that brilliantly.

But this movie doesn’t have nearly the confidence or artfulness; it’s as if the movie itself is holding its breath and hoping everything coheres into some new cinematic element. It’s like, if you just shake the cocktail hard enough, it’ll mix into something unique.

It doesn’t. It’s too much vermouth and not enough gin and who the hell put lime juice in there? It’s just not working.

And Natalie Portman is a shoo-in for the Oscar, but I think she isn’t very good. We never see her thinking, we only see her reacting — either crying or cringing or slamming a door or dancing as hard as she can. Her emotional dial is always at around 8 (out of 11, of course), and she goes through each scene acting real real hard, but she never gives us access to her soul.

I know some people out there see the movie as deliberately campy, but I think it takes itself utterly seriously. It’s truly invested in the main character’s tragedy. (If you call that tragedy.) I like Mila Kunis in this. She is to Black Swan what Andy Garcia was to The Godfather Part III: the only one involved in the whole self-important affair who seems to be in on the joke.

Aaron: OK, first – I totally agree with basically everything you say. Black Swan is a terrible movie. It’s boring and limited and ridiculous. One small question: What Michael Powell are you talking about? Peeping Tom? Also: Are we going to allow nice things to be said about MNS on this blog? We have to get the ground rules figured out. I don’t think he deserves any praise ever about anything. His movies are garbage. I guess that’s beside the point… except actually – that’s exactly what this movie is.

This is an M. Night movie – with everything bad that comes along with that. Most of the time in this film Arnofsky just shocks or scares us. Boo! It’s not really storytelling, it’s just surprising. There’s a reason

Regardless.

Alex: I think M. Night’s first three movies are really good. (And are you not feeling well? I dangled that Shutter Island fruit so low for you — I can’t believe you didn’t pluck it!)

Aaron: I’m not going to re-fight the Shitty Island debate. If you think that was a re-purposed cliche, you’re fucking nuts. It was merely a cliche. And a really fucking dull one too.

But I think you hit the nail on the head about Black Swan “holding its breath”. It never really does anything direct. It’s not really about fucking or lesbian lust and sexuality or betrayal or ballet. It’s about a girl who’s nuts being nuts. That’s not really anything. The whole dance set-up functions as a frame – but the frame is bigger than the picture inside (about a crazy girl).

Ultimately Portman goes from crazy in the first scene, to crazy in the second, to crazy in the third and on and on. She doesn’t grow or develop at all. Why couldn’t we see her amazing talent and promise as a dancer and then her slowly slipping into insanity? That would be Bergmanesque, I guess, and Arnofsky is no Bergman.

Another thing I hated about this is that Nat Port is a totally high-strung miserable bitch from beginning to end. There is absolutely no way to identify with her or align with her ever. She’s that goody-two-shoes girl in class who always had the right answer, but not from her own smarts, just because she read the book well and remembered stuff. She has no imagination really (aside from the hallucinations she gets); she can’t improvise (that we can see). Again, this is not interesting… and really doesn’t make for a good lead character. I’m supposed to care about a crazy girl who is a total bitch and seems to have no redeeming qualities? I want her to fucking die!

There is nothing deliberately campy like in Showgirls here. (And I think the Showgirls idea really comes from the trailer more than the film itself … and the trailer is totally different from the movie). This is not some sort of self-knowing camp like Showgirls, or even some sort of post-camp piece like The Room or Birdemic (both amazing, by the way) that are so NOT self-aware that they become culty and wonderful.

This is a middle-road approach (holding its breath, again) that is totally straightforward and totally silly-bad. There is no visible wink from Arnofsky and no reason to think that he knows what he’s putting out is garbage (his oeuvre to this point is totally serious and difficult with no sense of humor). It’s not even fun, great garbage, like a movie about dancers and strippers in Vegas, home to all sorts of fake shit, or a movie about a bird attack that’s so low budget they can’t get editing cues correct. It’s just a badly made movie.

Other things that don’t work:

1) Winona Ryder – why the fuck was she there? I think she’s supposed to be some foil for Nat who sees her as what she could become… but that’s wildly trite. I think her main traits could have been associated with other characters and done away with.

2) The black swan scene near the end is truly well done. It’s cinematic and grand and beautiful. That’s definitely the best moment in the film; probably the only one.

3) Mila Kunis is never really a threat to Nat. I guess the idea is that Nat perceives her to be a threat, but we never really see why Nat thinks what she thinks. Is the idea that in the world of ballet, this is the first time Nat has been challenged by a younger, more talented dancer? The whole film falls apart because Kunis’ character is so badly presented.

4) There’s a chance that Kunis’ character doesn’t exist and is another hallucination. This is interesting… sorta. All we see of her, we see from Nat’s point of view. Even when others are interacting with her, we’re not sure she’s really there or if it’s just a hallucination (the problem with a film about hallucinations). This is pretty shallow, but curious… kinda.

5) Nat’s mom might not be a total bitch, the way she’s presented. It’s quite possible that she is really helping Nat from really hurting herself. Maybe she knows that Nat is dangerous and is overprotective because she needs to keep her alive and out of jail. This is never really examined and is a big problem for me.

OK – I think I’m done thinking about this.

Ende

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About Aaron & Alex

We're two highly opinionated, movie-going, liberal, cynical, (single) New York Jews who like to bitch about movies.
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2 Responses to A Prime Candidate for ‘Most Overrated of the Year’

  1. Jerry says:

    Showgirls is an interesting case of a bad movie that has, strangely enough, somehow actually gotten better with time. Now, I was one of the many seventeen year old boys who went to this movie to see “Jesse Spano from Saved by the Bell naked.” And despite that, I knew enough about movies to hate Showgirls and think it was total garbage (and to be disappointed by the lack of lesbian action between Gina Gershon and Elizabeth Berkeley). Years later, I watched the movie again, on cable, with commercial interruptions. Somehow it seemed to make the movie actually better. And not just better in a campy way.

    Maybe the movie has become so famously bad, that when you see it, it’s not as bad as you have come to believe it is. Or, here’s an alternate theory. Maybe movies have continued getting WORSE since Showgirls was released in the mid-90s, and compared to what we have come to expect, it is actually not that horrible. I submit Showgirls is a far better movie than dreck like, say, Valentine’s Day or Marley and Me.

    That doesn’t make Showgirls any less fun to watch.

    PS, I saw Elizabeth Berkeley in the Village a few years ago and she looked genuinely terrifying. Like a botoxed assassin bionic sex robot.

  2. Aaron & Alex says:

    First: I think botoxed assassin bionic sex robots are fucking hot. I was always into Jesse Spano over Kelly Kapowski and Elizabeth will always have my heart. (Interestingly, it seems that all the Bayside kids have turned into boxtox freaks or gonzo life-project weirdos… look at Mario Lopez, Tiffany Thiessen, Mark-Paul Gosselaar and especially Dustin Diamond… sorry Lark Voorhees, you’re not even worth mentioning.)

    Second: I think over the years the brilliant camp play by Paul Verhoeven (who’s much older than you’d think at 72!) has come through as the really bad parts of the film have receded into nothingness. Looking at his progression from Spetters (in Holland), to RoboCop, to Showgirls and finally to Starship Troopers, Verhoeven’s sarcasm and insight is hard to miss. He did not make Showgirls because he thought it was good; he made it because he thought it was bad. That’s a very hard nuance to understand right away – and a hard one for reviewers and critics to ever understand. It takes time to marinate. “I don’t know what you call it, honey, but if you’re doing it a the Cheetah, it ain’t dancing.”

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