So Why is Black Swan a Huge Hit, Anyway? (Hint: Lesbians)
As alluded to in this morning's edition of The Broadsheet, everyone in Hollywood seems stunned by the success story that is Black Swan. Even filmmaker Darren Aronofsky says he can't make heads or tails of the phenomenon, which has earned recognition everywhere from manic-comic Saturday Night Live segments to the supermarket-tabloid media obsessed with star Natalie Portman (now pregnant by and engaged to marry on-screen dance partner Benjamin Millipied). "I get the teenage-girl part of the audience because it's a coming-of-age story about a girl becoming a woman. But older people are seeing it too," he told the LA Times. "I don't know if even I understand it." Oh, Darren -- don't start being modest now: Let's hear it for lesbians!
Or let's at least hear it for lesbian sex -- the explicit, mouth-wiping, hyped-for-a-year, reportedly tequila-fueled variety featuring Portman and Mila Kunis. Who ever would have thought that a movie sold first and foremost as a body-horror thriller and with three months of festival and Oscar buzz -- and lesbians! -- would manage "unlikely" mainstream success? I mean, let's face it: The issue at hand isn't that Black Swan is an unlikely, baffling crossover success. It's that anyone who purports to understand the industry at all believed Swan was an art-house film in the first place.
And there are a lot of us, even despite Fox Searchlight's reputation for finding blockbuster audiences for what looks at a glance like quirky festival and/or art-house fare (e.g. Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Slumdog Millionaire). We somehow believed that the slow roll-outs and our early access to the films themselves classified them among the actual limited-release darlings we'd seen pop up around them. But compared to boutique trash like Blue Valentine, which inflated its sense of sexual frontierism with a bogus NC-17 rating, we appreciate all the more Black Swan having been conceived as a big old hard-R exploitation bonanza from the start. Its success has nothing to do with the "experts," which is much of what makes it so exhilarating: the pared-down budget reflected both a commitment to that conceptual standard and its very, very talented principals' faith in the story and characters therein. Don't think everybody affiliated with the film deferred their salaries because they thought they were making a ballet flick.
Of course you could say something similar of Searchlight's awards-sniffing labors of love Conviction and Never Let Me Go -- that no "independent" film, in fact, is made in 2011 without similar risk at the top. But! But: They don't have lesbians. Or Winona Ryder's ghastly nail-file parlor tricks. Or the prurient promise of Portman masturbating, Aronofsky's camera leering at her raised ass. Or feathers popping out of the lead character's back. Come on! This might as well be Star Wars compared even to 127 Hours, Swan's other Searchlight stable buddy with an infamous, visceral (and salable) hard left turn of its own.
Alas, no lesbians. So sapphically sensational are Portman and Kunis that they don't even even have to face the kind of backlash endured by the makers of The Kids Are All Right. Their stylization exempts them from just about every accusation but that of rivaling Showgirls, and even that is enough to get a considerable segment of the American ticket-buying public off its asses and into the multiplex.
So let's stop playing the "surprise" card with Black Swan and maybe think about playing the "Jesus that was so headsmackingly obvious; why didn't I get it?" card. Sure, Portman is terrific and it's as love/hate as awards-season moviegoing gets, but come on. Has anything in Hollywood ever really happened by accident -- especially anything with lesbians? Please.