First and foremost, I’d like to set the record straight about one thing: I like Natalie Portman as a human being. I think Natalie Portman is one of the most gorgeous actresses alive. She’s smart, funny, was involved in one of the great SNL skits of the past decade, has a excellent sense of humor, has a dorky laugh, and (for better or worse, and whether she likes to admit it or not) is a major part of the canon of my favorite movie saga of all time.
However, over the years, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I just don’t think Natalie Portman is a very good actress. Never really has been, with a couple of notable exceptions, one of which occurred when she was 12 years old. She is rarely convincing in any role, making it difficult, if not impossible, to suspend disbelief. She has, by my count, three facial expressions: Smiley, Crying and Expressionless (if you can consider that an expression). Nothing she has done recently has made me think otherwise -- especially the wildly overrated BLACK SWAN, for which she will likely, undeservedly, win a Best Actress Oscar.
But hey, while my status as an faceless, amateur film critic may give me a self-appointed right to judge her professionally, I would never hold that against her on a personal level! I would still very much like to be friends with Natalie Portman because I bet she’s super cool and fun in real life. And I sure as hell wouldn’t mind being friends with benefits with Natalie Portman... which brings us to NO STRINGS ATTACHED, a mind-numbing, by-the-numbers romantic comedy in which Natalie and Ashton Kutcher attempt just that kind of relationship before a nasty little thing called “love” gets in the way.
Suffice to say, the film is not very good. It’s wildly unoriginal, ripping off everything from WHEN HARRY MET SALLY to SEINFELD (most notably the scene in which Natalie and Ashton decide to set “ground rules” for their no-strings relationship, a la Jerry and Elaine in that one classic episode); hell, even the recent LOVE AND OTHER DRUGS tackled similar subject matter -- and while that movie also sucked, at least it featured more believable chemistry between its stars. It’s not very funny, save for a handful of amusing moments (tip of the cap to the "period mix CD"). As much as I love a good R-rated raunchy comedy, this one just seems raunchy for the sake of being raunchy. The supporting characters are grossly, almost insultingly, generic: There's the goofy friend and the black friend and the gay friend and the sassy friend and so on. Character development is nil -- for example, why is Natalie's character so emotionally stunted, besides the fact that there wouldn't be much of a movie otherwise? Though only 100 minutes or so, it feels laboriously long, bogged down by painfully extended moments and lingering shots. Of course, Natalie isn't very good and Ashton is exponentially worse. Director Ivan Reitman has certainly fallen from grace, himself -- GHOSTBUSTERS seems like a very, very long time ago.
If there’s one positive thing I can say, it’s that the actors portraying the generic supporting characters try their damnedest to rise above the material, particularly indie darling Greta Gerwig. She plays one of the “best friend” roles, and at first glance, you’d think that she’d be out of her element in such a generic Hollywood picture (a far cry from her mumblecore roots, or even last year’s GREENBERG) -- but then you realize that she's acting circles around pretty much everyone on screen. I wish the movie had been about her character and relationship instead of what’shername and what’shisface! More good stuff stuff, too, from Kevin Kline, Mindy Kaling, Lake Bell and an odd cameo from Cary Elwes.
It’s also worth noting that Natalie Portman has never looked sexier on a movie screen. D’gah. Clearly my relationship with her is complicated... and, come to think of it, might make a good romantic comedy in its own right: Dorky unknown movie blogger loves actress as a person but is quite vocal about disliking her as an actress, an opinion for which he is very much in the minority. While at an advance screening of her latest film, the two "meet cute" (obviously, he doesn't mention the blog) and she's every bit as awesome in real life as he imagined. Even though she's a movie star and he's a regular guy, she can't help but fall for him, too, and the escape from the Hollywood limelight that he provides. Can his feelings for her personally override his disdain for her acting career in the long run? And what happens when she stumbles upon his blog and finds out the truth?
That's Hollywood gold, right there. Or, at least, a heck of a lot better than NO STRINGS ATTACHED.