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.