Rating: 3 out of 5.

What do you get when you take Suspiria, but remove any semblance of horror from the bizarre, twisty narrative? Birds of Paradise hopes to answer this question with a propulsive script, and two stunning lead performances from Diana Silvers and Kristine Frøseth. I have no doubt that this will be one majorly divisive film upon release, especially from those hoping for heavier LGBT content on deck. Personally, I found enough here to enjoy (especially from a stylistic level), and the fun competitive angle to the narrative kept me hooked. Who will win the exclusive contract for the Paris Opera Ballet? There is only one way to find out…

Kate (Silvers) may have only started dancing a mere five years prior, but this ambitious aspiring ballerina plans to take full advantage of an exciting new opportunity: a scholarship for a prestigious Parisian ballet school. However, upon arriving, it becomes painfully clear that the cutthroat atmosphere and petty judgments from her fellow dancers are more than which she bargained. None seems more confrontational than Marine (Frøseth), a beautiful mysterious dancer whose brother (and dance partner), Ollie, recently perished from suicide. Kate and Marine form an intense rivalry that initially is sparked with them slapping each other across the face numerous times. With their sights set on winning the coveted prize of joining the Opéra national de Paris, Kate and Marine eventually form a bond, vowing to “win the prize together or not at all!”

Based on the book Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small, Birds of Paradise is not one’s typical dance-competition movie. I would say it has more in common with Black Swan than anything else, though even this comparison is not entirely apples to apples. The rivalry between Kate and Marine certainly has a psycho-sexual edge to it, yet it is their ultimate friendship that is at the core of Birds of Paradise. There certainly are some sexcapades (male dancer Felipe, played by Daniel Camargo, is personally responsible for most of them), but they never rein central over the story. The competition and winning the top prize remain paramount from beginning to end. Unraveling more details about the past of each character only adds to the intrigue. Once we reach the final stage of the competition within the film, one dance sequence is highly memorable, and it is sure to have everyone talking following the debut of Birds of Paradise.

One area I felt Birds of Paradise fell short is in the conclusion, of which I can’t help but feel unsatisfied. A “three years later” coda attempts to clarify and rectify the situation we last found our characters. With so much buildup, I was hoping for a more captivating and memorable climax. This is certainly not a dig at the movie as a whole—for the most part, I really enjoyed this strange drama. Both Diana Silvers and Kristine Frøseth bring personality to their characters, and the filmmaking is slick and elevated in a way that frequently surprised me.

Prepare to enter the competition when Birds of Paradise debuts exclusively on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, September 24, 2021.

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