The lives of ballet dancers are rife with drama, trauma, infighting and intrigue, as basically every piece of ballet-centered media would have us believe. And Birds of Paradise isn’t about to shake up the steps of that dance.
The film follows Diana Silvers as Kate, an aspiring ballerina from Virginia given the opportunity to attend a prestigious Paris ballet school, thanks to a special scholarship. There she meets mysterious fellow dancer Marine (Kristine Froseth). An initial confrontation between the two gives way to a deep friendship… but that friendship will be put to the test, because only the top dancer can win the school’s ultimate prize: a contract to join the Opéra national de Paris.
Both films and dance are art forms in their own right, and thus are subject to one universal rule for evaluating art as a spectator: how they make you feel.
Do you love it? Do you hate it? Good. Either way, that’s passion. You’re feeling some type of way, good or bad, and that means you’re engaging with the art itself.
Birds of Paradise is a ballet film; artistry on two different levels. It makes me feel… apathetic.
Undoubtedly, this was not the goal.
To be clear, Birds of Paradise isn’t a bad film. I wasn’t miserable watching it. It simply doesn’t do much to make an impact.
The story beats play out in a predictable manner. Newcomer Kate, the outsider to the worlds of both Paris and professional dance, struggles to find her place. The classic fish-out-of-water. Former #1 ballerina Marine, forced to reclimb the ranks after a personal tragedy removed her from the dance world. The comeback kid. Two young women dancing around each other – literally and figuratively – exploring a friendship inherently stressed, doomed by the nature of the competition they’re wrapped up in. Because as we all know, it’s lonely at the top.
When it comes down to it, Birds of Paradise never really does enough to dance its way onto center stage. While there are tense moments, it doesn’t have the edge or pacing of a Black Swan-style thriller. There’s drama, but it’s not quite trashy enough to be soapy fun, and not quite intense enough to rise above standard YA fare. (Despite managing to earn an R rating, I often felt the scenes had a “watered down PG-13” feel to them.) It has stylized moments, but can’t truly be described as a stylized film.
Put simply, it’s as if you were watching a ballet without any principal dancers. There’s enough happening on stage with the corps to classify the performance as a show… but you can’t help but feel something is missing. By refusing to step into the spotlight, Birds of Paradise will simply fade into the background.
Birds of Paradise begins streaming on Amazon Prime Video September 24.