By Kacy Boccumini

While I don’t think that 2010 has been a strong year in film, it has been the year for strong performances that are unforgettable and important.  As we close out the millennial decade in stories, we have seen an important step in the evolution of female sexuality as it presents itself cinematically.  We opened the decade with Diane Lane’s sultry affair in Unfaithful in 2000, and that moment of indiscretion opened the flood gates of desire and sexual assertion that has lead us up to the not one but multiple climaxes:  Mila Kunis’ Black Swan incarnate in Black Swan, and Annette Benning’s portrayal of the female Patriarch in The Kids Are All Right.

Both represent the insurgence of female masculinity and sexuality – but in very different but equally potent ways – and in substantially different ways historically – than previous sexually aggressive women – because their targets (their demographic target if you will) are no longer men.  These women are still very much women (or imaginations of women) who exist.  Their approval is sought, their strength supports and concretizes values and rules in their worlds, and they invoke sexual fantasies in other women.  That is why they exist, it is not a byproduct of something else – it’s not a fling, or a whim, or an accident, or the other – their existence is particular to the fact that women seek them out, to love, the fuck, to support, to emulate, to rely on – in a sexual way, openly, naturally.

In The Kids Are All Right, the Lesbian couple is the norm – that alone is more is a statement of the shifting times than anything else – and it is Annette Benning who is the Patriarch/Matriarch of the family.  She is a mother, but she is every bit the demanding, insensitive, distracted, unimpressed Patriarch – an unfunny version of Bill Cosby, complete with a medical degree and the composure of a saint.  To say that she is a shining example of Lesbian accomplishment is an understatement, but to say that she is anything less then a woman playing the role that a man could have easily stepped into – but with such specificity and sensitivity to exemplify a marked difference  — she is the “Father” in the story.

You would need all the film theory, queer theory, and gender theory you can muster to describe what a leap this character is in film history, what she means for society, for the presentation of family, femininity, female sexuality, and the roles in relationships – straight or gay that cinema – and society – currently offer.  This was a powerhouse of a performance, and a very tall order considering the landmark role – she represents millions of women – and she represented the shit out of them – and she did it with a deep breath at a dining room table:  unemotional, complex, with depth and breadth of unimaginable heartbreak.  That, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is acting.

If the millennial decade has taught us anything, it’s that America cherishes one thing more than money, we fucking love our bad girls: Stalking, smoking, seething, swearing, damaged, dangerous, fighting, fucking, filthy dirty sexy girls.  But not those bad girls who fake it, America loves real bad girls. Who loves them the most? Other girls. Good girls, sweet girls, girls who go to church, who have babies, who pray, and wash, and diet, and dream late at night of saying exactly what they mean, exactly when they mean it, to whomever or whatever is standing in the direction of their venom.

On a whole, in the millennial decade of mean girls, women consume women even more so then men do – which is why it comes to no surprise that our fragile heroine of Black Swan turns to not the prettiest, not the best, but the sexiest, easiest girl in the room for inspiration and admiration.  Not since Marilynn Monroe has unbridled female sexuality been such a cinematic/exhibitionist force.  Women want to see other women, and they freely express that sexual expression/sexual identification, and in Black Swan, Mila Kunis’ playfulness, capriciousness, and cunningness overwhelm you like a sweet drink with too much ice.

The character Lily encapsulates the rawness of her own sexuality and uses it as bait to tempt the sweet Nina into very deep waters, casting stones of intrigue that ripple the surface and moisten the feathers underneath.  Kunis is so unexpected in contrast to the acting caliber of Portman, you don’t see her coming, yet she holds her own throughout the film.  The film teaches us a very important lesson about the limits of female sexuality: there are white swans and black swans swimming in the lake, and every man’s ideal swan is both black and white.  This has been the psychological paradox for women through time, cinematically and socially… a virgin and a whore all in the same girl.  So plainly stated by Thomas in the film, “in death there is freedom”, and for the white swans of America, the time for virgin purity is over – is as far-fetched as a new take on Swan Lake.  And in the words of the Black Swan, fully embodied, overtaking and consuming the innocent girl she seeks to eat, “It’s [her] time now”.

Both performances mark the beginning of the most vibrant, complex, sexually and emotionally awakened, threatening and powerful female performances to date, and we can only hope that films will continue to explore this new world of players and emotions.