Director Darren Aronofsky reverts to the over-the-top fantasies of his “Requiem for a Dream,” but not being fueled by drugs they seem more grounded in reality. The opening sequence, which turns out to be a dream, shows how melodramatic ballet can be, but the real drama takes place backstage, where overwrought emotions are overwritten larger.
In addition to getting a histrionic workout, Natalie Portman became a ballerina to play Nina Sayers, who’s been working all her life toward playing the Swan Queen in “Swan Lake.” As company manager Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) explains, this means being both the virginal White Swan and her evil twin, the seductive Black Swan.
Thomas knows Nina, with her perfectionist tendencies, can play the White Swan, but questions whether she can give up control to bring spontaneity to the Black Swan.
She gets her chance when prima ballerina Beth MacIntyre (Winona Ryder) is pushed into retirement and steps in front of a car — or is she pushed there too?
Soon Nina senses someone’s shadow behind her: the new girl in the company, Lily (Kunis), “straight off the plane from San Francisco.”
Nina lives with her mother (Barbara Hershey), who gave up her own dance career to raise her. Is mom a control freak or just trying to protect her fragile daughter, who has a tendency to mutilate herself?
Everyone has two sides, like the Swan Queen, but one may be Nina’s perception of them; or both may be. Is Thomas an evil seducer, or is he just trying to loosen her up?
Is Lily trying to be her friend or to sabotage her to steal her part?
The latter question leads to their lesbian erotic scene. Does it really happen or is it, as someone says, “some sort of lesby wet dream”? Either way it looks real to us, as does Nina’s masturbatus interruptus.
Aronofsky starts the movie in “Swan” drive and never takes his foot off the gas. The ambiguity will make it more interesting for some, frustrating for others, but no one will be bored.
Carrey’s gay con man
There’s no such ambiguity in “I Love You Phillip Morris.” Jim Carrey has a sex scene 10 minutes in that will alert some people that they’re in the wrong theater, and from then on there are countless CDAs (Cinematic Displays of Affection) and occasional sex, mostly between Carrey and Ewan McGregor.
Based on real events, this is the story of a con man who falls in love. Lying being part of his nature, he can’t be honest with anyone, including his love or, it turns out, the audience.
“Love’s the reason I’m layin’ here dyin’,” Steven Russell (Carrey) tells us at the outset, narrating from a hospital bed. Adopted as a child, he grows up to become a respectable policeman, a churchgoer with a wife (Leslie Mann) and daughter.
He’s always been gay, he tells us. A car wreck makes him decide to tell everyone else as well: “I’m gonna be a fag. A big fag.” He moves to Miami where he soon has “two adorable pups and a boyfriend named Jimmy (Rodrigo Santoro).” It’s there he discovers “Being gay is really expensive,” and becomes a con man to supplement his income.
This eventually leads to a Texas prison, where Steven meets Phillip Morris (McGregor), a self-described “blond-haired, blue-eyed queer.” It’s love at first sight and Steven arranges to get himself transferred to Phillip’s cell.
Their life together is as romantic as it can be, given the surroundings, until Steven gets out and impersonates a lawyer to get Philip released. He lies his way into a job as chief financial officer of a medical management company, from whom he embezzles enough to let them live in grand style — until he gets caught.
There follow a seemingly endless parade of con jobs, suicide attempts, arrests, escapes, romantic interludes, wacky comedy and sobering drama — more than enough to qualify “I Love You Phillip Morris” as a gay date movie.
Longtime writing partners Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Bad Santa”) are directing one of their scripts for the first time. Because it doesn’t open until Dec. 17 we can’t tell you what we thought of it, but you’ll want to see it for yourself anyway.
Top photo: Top: ‘I Love You Phillip Morris,’ based on the true life story of con man Steven Russell opens Dec. 17. Below starting from left: Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis share some on-screen affection in ‘Black Swan’, but the film itself is deceptively shy on lesbian content. (Top photo by Patti Perret; bottom photo by Niko Tavernise)