Every so often a Manohla Dargis review feels as ravishing or transporting as the film she’s making out with. I have my reactions to Black Swan fairly well sorted, but her impressions turned on a current I hadn’t fully felt or relished, or whatever the right term is. She made me want to see it a fourth time.
Black Swan “surprises despite its lusty or rather sluttish predilection for cliches,” she says at the halfway point. “[These] include the requisitely demanding impresario (Vincent Cassel makes a model cock of the walk) and Nina’s ballerina rival, Lily (Mila Kunis, as a succulent, borderline rancid peach). But, oh, what Mr. Aronofsky does with those cliches, which he embraces, exploits and, by a squeak, finally transcends.
“Such is his faith in his ability to surmount the obvious (and the lethally blunt) that he turns Nina’s mother, Erica (a terrific Barbara Hershey), into a smother-mother who out-crazies Faye Dunaway‘s Joan Crawford in the mommy dearest department. You don’t know whether to laugh or shriek (both are reasonable responses), and it is this uncertainty and at times delicious unease that proves to be Mr. Aronofsky’s sweet spot.
“It’s easy to read Black Swan as a gloss on the artistic pursuit of the ideal. But take another look, and you see that Mr. Aronofsky is simultaneously telling that story straight, playing with the suffering-artist stereotype and having his nasty way with Nina, burdening her with trippy psychodrama and letting her run wild in a sexcapade that will soon be in heavy rotation on the Web.
“The screenplay, by Mark Heyman, Andres Heinz and John McLaughlin, invites pop-psychological interpretations about women who self-mutilate while striving for their perfect selves, a description that seems to fit Nina. But such a reading only flattens a film that from scene to scene is deadly serious, downright goofy and by turns shocking, funny and touching.”