Is Black Swan the Art-House Version of Showgirls?

This season, some pundits were so ready to crown Burlesque as the heir to the Showgirls camp crown that they may have missed the real contender: Darren Aronofsky’s Oscar-friendly but thrillingly over-the-top art-house film Black Swan. Sure, all the breasts have been whittled down to bone and concealed in binding ballet outfits, but under its high-minded surface, Black Swan owes a feather-tip to Paul Verhoeven’s exploitation classic more than Aronofsky might be willing to admit (Our own David Edelstein and Movieline’s Stephanie Zacharek agree!). Fortunately, we mean all of this in a good way: Oscar season is often so dreary, and this juicy slice of straight-man camp should liven up the awards derby quite a bit. Here are eight things that Black Swan and Showgirls have in common. (Very mild spoilers contained within.)

Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) and Nomi Malone (Elizabeth Berkeley) have enough on their minds already — by God, they will learn all the dance moves and come out on top, even if they have to (literally?) turn into monsters to do it — and yet, there’s always some hedonistic brunette (For Nina, it’s Mila Kunis’s Lily; for Nomi, it’s Gina Gershon’s Cristal) slinking around on the sidelines, watching, waiting for them to slip up. “Relax, honey,” these rivals coo. “My nonchalance and invasion of your personal space is threatening but also a little sexy, right? I’m just going to keep lighting cigarettes and taking drugs until you finally lash out at me. Let me know when you want to start this shit.”
For two ambitious girls with daddy issues, who better to work through them with than Black Swan’s ballet master Thomas (Vincent Cassel) and Showgirls pool-sexer Zack (Kyle MacLachlan)? Both are wildly inappropriate Henry Higgins figures who take Nina and Nomi under their wings and invite them back “for a drink at my place,” hoping to cop an additional feel. They’re sexy, sleazy, and they’ve manhandled some of cinema’s most beautiful European actresses. How could our ladies resist?
If there’s one lasting lesson we can take away from both Black Swan and Showgirls, it’s that when two women are archrivals who really, really hate each other, the best way they can settle their differences is by Frenching in an expertly framed close-up.
Allow us to summarize all the non-Natalie dialogue from the first half of Black Swan: “Nina, you really need to go home and masturbate. We know you can dance the white swan, but can you dance the constantly masturbating black swan? Probs not!” (Eventually — MASTURBATION SPOILER ALERT! — she finally does jill off, culminating in the most hilarious shock-cut of the year.) It’s more than a little unprofessional, but Nomi Malone has to deal with much worse, like when L.A. Law star Alan Rachins demands “Show me your tits,” then sneers, “You got something wrong with your nipples? Play with them a little bit. Pinch ‘em a little.”
“There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you,” Cristal says sagely in Showgirls, and you’d better believe that Nina and Nomi know it. Nina has inadvertently pushed aging star Beth (Winona Ryder) out of the company, and now she’s got Lily lurking as her All About Eve–ish understudy. Meanwhile, Nomi literally pushes Cristal, and the act completes her transformation from backup to top dog.
Nina and Nomi may be adults, but they’re heavily infantilized twentysomethings. Baby-talking Nina still lives at home with her insufferably coddling mother (Barbara Hershey), who checks off psychoses like she was perusing a grocery list: Overbearing stage-mom tendencies? Check. Living her own dream through her daughter? Check. Weirdly constant, incestuous stroking? Check, and eek. Meanwhile, as soon as you remove her penchant for dolphinlike pool sex from the equation, the less than fully formed Nomi is little more than a bratty 12-year-old. “I used to love Doggy Chow!” she exclaims at one point. We bet.
Eventually, Nomi’s machinations put her rival, Cristal (Gina Gershon), in the hospital, and Nomi visits her for a late-in-the-movie epiphany about how it all has come to this. We don’t want to spoil Black Swan for you, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that two women in the film have a scene that bears more than a passing resemblance to the one in Showgirls.
Yes, the dancing in Black Swan is better — all of Elizabeth Berkeley’s wild, zigzaggy moves in Showgirls can be best described as “watching someone get electrocuted while topless” — but someday, both of these movies are going to make for some terrific “Whip My Hair” mash-ups.
Is Black Swan the Art-House Version of Showgirls?