Black Swan Black Swan is a visually striking, tightly structured, high tempo melodrama about an ambitious but sensually naïve ballerina’s ascent to the top spot. The story, which was written by four men and directed by another one, is a male fantasy of what happens when a young, beautiful and well-behaved woman releases her Id to please her virile young director and for the consumption of her dance loving audience. Nina, played by Natalie Portman, lives in a cloistered apartment with her controlling over-the-hill-dancer mother. She sleeps on childish pink bedding while Mom strokes her hair, a music box pings tinny notes and a porcelain ballerina turns. This is probably the weakest part of the film since their mother-daughter relationship is an on-the-nose stereotype but considering the tradition of melodrama the film belongs to, probably not a big deal.

Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Requim for a Dream) puts enormous faith in Portman’s acting skills since much of the story is told in close up on her. Nina’s desires stream through Portman’s face so authentically it will make you wonder about Portman’s own experiences as an actress and her similarities to the character. It’s also interesting that Portman’s real mother is, like her character’s mother, an artist who is heavily invested in her daughter’s career. This might be turf that Portman really really knows. I guess that’s why the simplicity of Nina’s relationship with her Mom, or better yet the predictability, is kind of disappointing. But I’m harping on a little thing.

Vincent Cassel isn’t bad as Thomas Leroy, the ballet’s director and puppet master, but I blame Aronofsky and Portman that he isn't better. Aronofsky let him slide in some scenes that he looked a little lost in and Portman is so good that someone is bound to look bad next to her. High marks to Mila Kunis, who we know from “That 70s Show” for holding her own next to Portman in full bloom. Black Swan is a top shelf melodrama.