"Turning Natalie Portman Into a Girl"
"That 'Flippy' Thing You Did? Good Call."
"SUCH a chick-flick!" said one of the girls sitting in front of me at the conclusion of No Strings Attached, the new rom-com with Natalie Portman (who exec-produced, as if you didn't have ENOUGH reasons to hate her) and Ashton Kutcher. This one might be the most negligible film in the 12 month span which will see her in five new movies (based on previews, I think Thor might actually be the weakest link), having a kid, getting married, and probably winning an Oscar (Geez, Nat,' over-achieving much?).
And, yeah, total chick-flick, but one with a tiny spin to it, although it still falls into the "happily-ever-after" formula they've followed since the days when we innocently worried that Doris Day might lose her chastity to Rock Hudson. No such worries here. There's a lot of hay-rolling in this one, body-double or no, although we see more of Kutcher's tush than hers (for a change). Virtue is not the issue here, but "true love,"* now permanently split, I guess, from sex (not that they really got along).
But, and this is the "neat twist," it is Portman's Emma Kurtzman, who has commitment issues, not, as is typical, the male of the species. "I'm not really an affectionate person," she blandly tells her camp-buddy Adam (they keep "meeting-cute" throughout their lives, which in movie terms means they're destined to be together (Hell, they're in a romantic comedy—of course, they're destined to be together!). But, when both are "available," they have a brief encounter (clocked at 45 seconds), that puts Emma in mind that, rather than suffering through that whole "relationship thing" that they become "friends with benefits," casual sex partners available at the drop of a text message. Then, in a Hawksian role-reversal, which as in His Girl Friday, makes the original premise snap into focus a little better, it is Kutcher's tv-assistant director who wants something more, as in commitment, from which Portman's Emma wrinkles her nose, rolls her eyes and turns on her heel. It gets complicated. It gets messy. It gets resolved.
This sounds like a dreadful premise, but for all the "R"-rated language and suggestiveness (though never veering into "bro-mance" crudeness), and the seemingly-required "safe" arc of the storyline,** it is a clever and funny movie in the particulars, thanks in no small part to Elizabeth Meriwether's clever screenplay, a less-leaden-than-usual direction by Ivan Reitman, and a splendid ensemble above and below the title. Incidents and details seem fresh and buoy you up, disguising the fact that there may be some clockwork mechanism behind the face, and the cast makes the most of these moments, making it all play fast and a little loose (with the exception of Kevin Kline, who is just a little practiced and arch as Kutcher's never-grown-up father, but that could be explained away as he's an actor). Portman manages to make her "stick-in-the mud" Emma stiff and likeable simultaneously, and is only too happy to sacrifice her dignity in scenes (she has a great drunken wobble-walk in high-heels that's priceless), and Kutcher—who gets a lot of stick for just being Ashton Kutcher—doesn't take himself so seriously that he avoids turning winsomeness into weakness. Both's comic timing makes for a good chemistry, despite the obstacles their characters regularly throw between each other. In the end, it is two people's trip to normalcy in a chaotic world that seems to want to either crush them or ignore them, and only by narrowing their focus to each other can they achieve the specialness they think they deserve.
No Strings Attached is a Matinee.
* ...and, coincidentally, Cary Elwes, Westley from The Princess Bride, is in this, although discretely disguised behind a nerdlinger beard, so he doesn't pose a realistic threat to Kutcher.
** One of these days I have to finish that post on Judd Apatow.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
No Strings Attached
"Turning Natalie Portman Into a Girl"