Birds of Paradise
Photo | Amazon Studios
Did you love “Black Swan” but wish it was set in Paris? Good news! “Birds of Paradise” is here to satisfy all your ballet catfight needs, with a bonus helping of architecture porn. It’s not enough that lithe young women abandon all morals and/or calories to reach the highest level of ballet achievement — “Birds of Paradise” has these leggy young ladies do it all in swooningly gorgeous Parisian interiors. The windows alone are worth a watch. This sexy teen melodrama is an absolute guilty pleasure, escapism at its juicy finest.
Kate Sanders (Diana Silvers, “Booksmart”) is a talented if naive ballerina from Virginia, and she finds herself in over her head as a scholarship student in a cut-throat competition for a place in the Opera national de Paris. Marine (Kristine Froseth) is wealthy, worldly and emotionally damaged by the suicide of her twin brother and dance partner, Ollie. When Kate makes the mistake of casually mentioning this event to Marine, the first of many fights ensues. So, yeah, it’s the kind of movie where girls slap one another.
Backstabbing is rampant among the small group of competitors, but no one is as unpredictable as the tragic Marine, whose mother is the American ambassador. This gives the ballerina plenty of opportunities to publicly misbehave, including a truly unlikely pirouette incident at a high society cocktail party. Marine is contrasted with the seemingly down-to-earth Kate, and, naturally, the girls are roommates. You’ll be shocked to learn that their (absolutely beautiful) room has but one bed.
Marine is, of course, not as confident as she appears; she is broken and vulnerable, and the girls become friends. They actually help each other, and vow to share the prize if they win. Their good girl/bad girl dynamic shifts and changes, which makes it more interesting than if Kate was the blameless heroine.
There is a dramatic, arty quality to this movie that elevates it and makes it more fun to watch than just the teen soap opera goings-on. The film does not shy away from an over-the-top treatment of its material. When we first meet Marine, she is leaping around, wearing a bird mask, on a window seat in a lavish bedroom. If given a choice between making a situation look realistic or cool, this movie chooses “cool.”
Depending on your tolerance of teen protagonists, “Birds of Paradise” is a fun, outlandish and stylish flick. Like many teenagers, the film itself might not be as shocking as it thinks it is. Even when the high jinks were predictable, they were nicely art-directed. It might be about teenagers, but it doesn’t look like “Saved By the Bell.” There is an almost gothic element that really adds an extra dimension. And I have to admit, I genuinely was not sure whether Marine or Kate would win.
Jacqueline Bisset gets to be stern and imposing as the ballet mistress. She intimidates her students by trying to get them to kill a rat in a cage, and is otherwise imperious but wise. None of the other supporting characters registers much. The rich parents are awful; the poor dad is just a voice on the phone. They are just pawns in the two main girls’ high-stakes battle of who has the highest cheekbones and most artfully disheveled bun. There is a particularly ludicrous scene in a sexy underground dance club, with lots of skimpy costumes and dance fighting.
If you like ballet, you will like “Birds of Paradise.” If you like Paris, you will like “Birds of Paradise.” If you don’t like ballet or Paris, lighten up — maybe this pretty teen soap opera will change your mind.
“Birds of Paradise” is now streaming on Amazon Prime.
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