A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Dancers are "warriors of pain." Money, influence, and sex are the deciding factors in artistic careers rather than talent.
Positive Role Models
Marine is spoiled and privileged, and damaged by the suicide death of her twin brother. Kate is eager and hardworking, always playing to win, but with a dark underbelly. A mother is sarcastic, cold, and angry. A teacher is manipulative and scary.
People of color are represented among the top dancers at a prestigious ballet school. One complains that Black girls have to work twice as hard to do as well as their privileged White competitors in the climb to the top. A person with fewer financial resources is attributed with more ambition and drive than her wealthy rival. The rich are depicted as insensitive and self serving. A trans actress plays a wise and jaded ballet school administrator.
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Violence & Scariness
A boy is said to have died via suicide. His sister feels responsible for the death, although nothing suggests she's at fault. Someone tries to copy that suicide, but has a change of heart. Two girls get into a physical fight the minute they meet. A dancer throws herself onto the floor as part of a dance. Bloody and abused dancers' feet are seen. A dancer hurts herself during an audition and is seen limping away from the school. A dancer vomits in a ladies' room and hints that she's bulimic in order to keep her weight down as she struggles to compete with "skinny White girls." A teacher tells a student that her cat likes "fresh" meat. Then she invites the student to administer poison to a caged rat as a demonstration that the student has what it takes to succeed. It's implied that the student agrees to kill the rat. A student pressed for money steals dance supplies. A former dancer describes an unwanted pregnancy and miscarriage. Incest is hinted at: A parent believes she caught her son and daughter having sex together and says "Dance is a ritual of seduction, no?"
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Characters kiss and have sex; they're shown unclothed from the shoulders up. Brief glimpses of breasts are seen in erotically-tinged shower scenes. Choreography intertwines dancers in suggestive ways. In a threesome, two female dancers and a male dancer kiss and touch each other. No body parts are seen. Dancers dressed in scant outfits and wearing masks and glitter dance at a club suggestively. A male dancer trying to seduce a new female dance student says, "What makes a perfect ballerina? Total submission. Allow yourself to be possessed." Then he proceeds to have presumably consensual sex with her. No nudity is seen.
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"F--k," "s--t," "bastard," and "pee."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A dance student introduces himself to the new girl as a "drug dealer" and suggests that no one can perform well without the assistance of drugs. Marine's brother used drugs and came to a bad end. Kate and others take pills and snort white powder. One girl smokes cigarettes. To enter a club, patrons have to eat a worm that's laced with a psychedelic.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Birds of Paradise is a drama based on A.K. Small's book Bright Burning Stars about two young dancers vying for a contract with a prestigious Paris ballet company. The story's emphasis is on the dark side of the dance world, so drugs, smoking, rivalries, treachery, sabotage, hard-nosed teachers, eating disorders, suicide, and unwanted pregnancy power the plot. Dancers take uppers and downers and snort what seems to be cocaine. A drug-fueled suicide haunts the players, and there's a threesome and the hint of incest. Bare breasts are shown briefly. Language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bastard," and "pee." It's implied that a student kills a rat at the request of a manipulative teacher. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Birds of Paradise may be pretty to look at it, but there's not much beyond that. It's imbued with a pretense of depth, but depth is largely absent in this long chain of clichés taken from other, better movies, including The Devil Wears Prada, The Turning Point, Black Swan, Erin Brockovich, Working Girl, and every movie ever made about competitive girls' gymnastics. The top two contenders overdramatically come to blows at first meeting, showcasing another sturdy cliché of paternalistic cinema, the cat fight, with two beauties fighting it out to the stunned arousal of witnesses too entertained to stop the melee. There's no depth in cynicism, either, but money, influence, and sex are the deciding factors in artistic careers rather than talent, we're advised here, and the young must abandon hopeful naivete to embrace the way things really work in the cruel world. The climax gives us the old one-two, no-surprise role reversal where the poor, hardworking girl making the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity turns hard-hearted and untrustworthy, while the spoiled, unloved rich girl, whose mother is a hilariously untactful American diplomat, ends up well-balanced and kind. These transformations are certainly possible, but nothing in the script offers a path toward such character development.
Moments of sheer ridiculousness overshadow the few truths offered here. What drug dealer introduces himself by saying, "I'm a drug dealer"? What American ambassador -- trained in diplomacy -- would engage in an unhinged public melt-down because her daughter quit ballet school? A teacher tells a student she needs "fresh" meat for her cat. Then she invites the student to administer poison to the caged rat sitting on her desk, as if there were a correlation between pest control and being a successful French ballerina. Maybe this movie is a horror film. Or maybe the widespread absurdity lays the groundwork for cult status.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.