Birds of Paradise is an Amazon Original film directed by Sarah Adina Smith, based on the book Bright Burning Stars by A.K. Small and adapted to screen by Sarah Adina Smith. The film stars Diana Silvers and Kristine Froseth and is produced by Anonymous Content and Everything Is Everything in association with Big Indie Pictures. Kate has only been dancing ballet for five years, but she is fighting for the top prize among Paris’s most elite dancers. Marine has been dancing all her life, but her brother’s death and relationship with her mother have left the Prize less inevitable.The world of professional ballet is sickening, as it is commonly depicted on-screen. Sex, drugs, money, and worse make the ballet world go-round and the tolls it takes on the dancers’ bodies is nothing compared to what it does to their minds. But it’s these expectations of how a ballet story should go that make Birds of Paradise so rich from start to finish. Kate comes in as the most earnest protagonist in a drama around a competition starring teenagers, I could imagine. She is entirely genuine and sincere and seems more desperate to make friends than to win prizes. I loved that about her from the first scene. Because then there was Marine, who seemed like she would stop at absolutely nothing to stay on top and would sooner break Kate than let her puncture her vulnerability. Until that facade shatters fairly quickly, and Marine latches onto Kate like a new sister.
Maybe it’s the one bed they have to share in their room at the school. Perhaps it’s just that Kate was the first person to be nice to Marine. But through every stage of both their personal journies and their relationship, both Silvers and Froseth act superbly. I attribute any less-than-satisfying moments, of which the film has a few, to a weak script. The two are superb in every scene, together or alone, not to mention their immaculate dancing. I have never wanted to watch a ballet as badly as after finishing Birds of Paradise.
The film is about rising, falling, and soaring again thereafter. It’s easy to look at the film after seeing it and feel like its path was predictable. But I spent its full nearly two hours enraptured and uncertain of its direction. Where I thought the characters and their relationship would go was never correct for very long and the end shocked me several times over, especially in its epilogue and post-epilogue. It’s a relationship that felt especially real, even when I couldn’t always tell who was being real. I stressed considerably for a significant chunk in the middle about their individual directions and that of their relationship. Still, as somebody who is always going to root for things to be alright in the end, all I will say is this film did not meet my expectations, but the ending left me totally satisfied and a bit wistful.
The most impactful part about Birds of Paradise is how impossible it is to tell whether Marine or Kate are sincere in the pact they make to win the Prize either together or not at all. While the two characters begin the movie in the previously mentioned states, neither remains entirely that way as time goes on, the competition stiffens, and their relationship seemingly deepens. I don’t know whether it’s a mark of the writing, the acting, or both, but from scene to scene, I was constantly on edge over whether one was lying to the other or intentionally betraying them. This anxiety kept me totally locked in as I needed to know how their relationship would fare just as much as how the competition would resolve. As a result, I was distraught when one hurt the other, all while not knowing whether they even felt bad or not for it.
Besides excellent acting and an impactful story, the design of this film is immaculate. I will caveat that statement by saying that the lighting was much too dark on occasion, but the sets and costuming were gorgeous, constantly. I’ve never been so in love with glitter. The dream-like sequences throughout the movie are so well-colored and rich with the good things about gorgeous art, sex, desire, and yearning. In particular, there is one shot where everything is black, but the spotlight is on Kate and Marine as they perform just one of their endlessly amazing dances. And truly, every single dance, of which there are many, had my eyes glued to them. So many unique and wonderfully performed pieces take place. The soundtrack is perfect as well, marrying classical music with modern sounds to punctuate each scene with exactly the right mood.
Birds of Paradise is not a straightforward relationship between its main characters or a typical ballet story, and that’s what makes it so good. Imperfection is, ultimately, what makes something so beautiful, as one of the film’s dancers eloquently puts it. The sets and costumes may be gorgeous, but the tenuous relationship between Kate and Marine is what has me totally in love with Birds of Paradise.
Birds of Paradise is streaming now on Amazon Prime Video.
Birds of Paradise
- Rating - 8.5/108.5/10
Birds of Paradise is not a straightforward relationship between its main characters, but neither is any dynamic between two teenagers. But imperfection is ultimately what makes something so beautiful, as one of the film’s dancers eloquently puts it. The sets and costumes may be gorgeous, but the tenuous relationship between Kate and Marine is what has me totally in love with Birds of Paradise.