Mila Kunis in “Black Swan” (2010)
The following article has been submitted into Stinkylulu’s “Class of 2010” supporting actress blogathon. If you, yourself, have a personal favorite supporting actress performance you would like to get more recognition, feel free to write-up an analysis of the work, post it on your blog, and take part of the event on January 9th. Follow this link and also, check out Stinkylulu’s write-ups on Oscar-nominated performances. Some of the best, most entertaining you’ll come across on the web.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It seems that Barbara Hershey was the one to be the supporting actress nominee at the Oscars this year had Black Swan broke out and become the big contender some thought it would be. Hell, if not Babs, then definitely Winona Ryder in her comeback role as an aging ballerina suffering from a mental breakdown (a supporting Mickey Rourke, if you get my drift). What nobody expected, it seems, was that the one actress playing the film’s “sexy babe”, the actress who was once a regular cast member of That 70s Show and now the recurring voice of Meg Griffin on Family Guy, would be the one to gain precursor traction ahead of the veteran and fallen star for what seems to be a solid contender for a best supporting actress nomination come Oscar night. Since the nominations aren’t going to be announced for yet another twenty days or so, it’s probably not a worthy decision to get my hopes up so highly. But I can see it now, when Mo’Nique is up on that stage and they announce the nominees… I can see it there…
approx. x minutes and x seconds
roughly x.x% of film’s total running time
It’s funny how ever since Kunis has stolen the awards buzz from the other two supporting ladies, there have been many fellow film buffs on multiple forums voicing how much they feel Kunis is thoroughly unworthy of any awards consideration. Some say she’s solid, delivers what is necessary, and that’s about it. Others say she really didn’t do anything at all, and she was the film’s one weak link. But there are also many out there announcing how much they loved her, announcing her worthy of a nomination and, even by some (including myself), the win. I truthfully, honestly have issues processing how anybody could love Black Swan as a film and then call out Kunis’ work. Outside of Portman’s marvelous lead work, how can you really say you love watching Nina’s transition from white to black swan and then brush Kunis under the rug as if she had no effect to the picture? If it weren’t for Kunis, Portman wouldn’t even have her black swan to base her own performance on.
I think one of the biggest reasons that Kunis is getting so much flack for her raves is because she really doesn’t have a very loud, showy performance. It’s very low-key, and quiet (save for the moments in which her character is perceived through Nina’s visions) character that drives the film’s sane portions without going theatrical in it all. Instead of working the typical route of stealing scenes from the lead through bravura performing, Kunis decides to not steal anything (even though, by doing so, she does…) from Portman and, instead, truly supports her. Just like a supporting performer should.
Like almost all of my very favorite performances, especially in the supporting actress category, Kunis’ character of Lily is one of those haunting symbols. She isn’t fleshed-out in the film enough to be some kind of showman of the film, but a character that is seen through random stretches of scenes, where we pick up on their behaviors and only know from them what we can pick up in their body language. The first time we see Lily, she is on a subway car and Nina spots her. Just from the back of her head, we gain some kind of haunting essence from her. She shows up not too long after that, bursting in the company’s dressing room with gusto. The look in her eyes, the friendliness and wildness on full blast, Kunis makes you completely entranced by her without even giving us a whole lot of detail. In essence of Aronofsky’s direction, we share Nina’s journey into becoming fascinated with Lily. And we want to know more.
Throughout the first act of Black Swan, we watch as Nina becomes practically terrified of Lily, mainly because Lily has the very loose flourishes of the black swan that Nina fails to possess when performing that half of her character. What Nina fails to realize because of her selfish behavior is that Lily isn’t really trying to pry into the director’s eye and try to steal away Nina’s part, but is actually a free-spirited caregiver trying to make friends with the very talented lead character.
The film’s most well-acted scene (uhoh… here come Portman’s defenders on my ass…) is easily the moment in which Lily arrives in the dancehall and tries to comfort a crying Nina. “So, big day’s getting closer and closer, huh?” she smiles. “I can’t wait, I think you’re going to be… amazing.” This friendliness, the way she holds out her hand for the struggling Nina is touching, and very refreshing in a film of this nature. Instead of a fame-hungry sex-bomb rushing into the limelight for the top spot, Kunis’ Lily slowly arrives at her scheme with time as she is constantly put-down by the naïve headline star.
Lily lets the director know that he’s pushing Nina too hard and that she should take it easy on her, but this only makes things harder for Nina, who confronts Lily about it and practically ruins every bit of friendship the two could have had. It could be said that Lily’s upcoming actions are completely reasonable (although not very mature), but the scheming and manipulating she does from here on out is a showcase for Kunis’ brilliant knack for naturalism.
Arriving at her door, still sweet-faced, offering to take her out, Lily produces a devious scheme to practically destroy Nina’s innocent reputation (not knowing that every event she does toward her actually backfires and makes Nina’s future performance stronger). At the club, Lily joins in a brilliant chit-chat with Nina, describing herself in slight riddles, and playfully tempting and teasing the girl into the nightlife.
For a performance that is this subdued, Kunis really knows how to pack on subtle layer of subtle layer into her character. Throughout the nightclub scenes, she shows many aspects of Lily, most prominently her hunger for the nighttime life. Most film depictions of a woman of this nature are negative, but Kunis makes Lily unapologetic for her actions and, refreshingly, a sweet-hearted girl underneath all of the partying. Lily likes to fuck. Lily like to get high. But Lily is still intelligent, she still keeps a solid reputation as a ballerina, she is a very dedicated ballerina with respect to her company. She’s a sweet girl (no pun intended.. haha), it’s just Nina unintentionally invited her into a little bit of mindgaming.
The whole nightclub scene is a beautiful construction of arrays, so impeccably mysterious due to the way Kunis lives in the moment. Not unlike other performances I love in 2010 (Birgit Minichmayr’s performance in Everyone Else, Blake Lively’s small role in The Town, and Thandie Newton’s scenery-chewing in For Colored Girls), this is a performance that holds a slight bit of irony to its development. Kunis is playing Lily playing temptress; a sort of performance art that the character is putting on for a specific moment. Watch the subtle way Lily smirks at the slightest things that Nina says, or the way she plays around and claims to be Nina’s sister, or the way she amplifies her voice as if she’s taunting a child. “You really need to relax.”
From this scene on out, the reality version of Kunis’ portrayal of Lily is pretty much outlined for the sake of the film, doing her duty in constructing how things lead up to Nina’s influence of the black swan. As the film progresses, we see Kunis as she continues sarcastic friendliness to Nina, becomes upset when she realizes she won’t get to play alternate to Nina after her late arrival, and then ultimately, like someone with a good heart like Lily would do, knock on the star’s door and tell her how amazed she was by her work on stage. That heart may be a bit mischievous, but it’s not pitch black and desolate.
The fantasy half of Kunis’ performance is where she gets to shine even more. Well, maybe “shine” isn’t the correct verb here, because the portrayal is so damn grimy and dark, but Kunis sells it with every inch of her sex appeal, viciously jumping into it with a beastly attitude. That sex scene needs to work, as it’s easily the most important scene of the film (arguably) and it’s the very moment in which Nina uses her erotic view of Lily to transform herself. There is something incredibly sexy, but also very creepy, in the way Kunis performs in this scene. It’s supernatural and almost alien. Sexy, but empty. And that’s kind of the point. Had any inch of the real Lily been played here, the film may have lost its whole purpose.
Rotating between so many layers of two different versions of a character and dialogue that could have easily fallen flat on its face, Kunis is a serious tour-de-force in Black Swan, working her charisma into a mold that is a character all its own. Every delivery is with bite, every emotional shift (subtle as they may be) is done with complete control. A much nuanced, natural piece of acting that I’m deeply surprised that it is managing to overthrow a veteran and fallen star like it has in the awards department. As some of the detractors have stated, they feel that it’s not worth the awards attention it has been getting. It may kind of confuse the hell out of them, then, if I truthfully admit that it’s not only the best performance by an actress in a supporting role in 2010, but also the very best performance I’ve seen all year. Marvelous!