No Strings Attached: How to make Natalie Portman utterly unlikable

There is a winged specter on the horizon. A ubiquitous specter, lingering on the fringes of conversations, lurking in the shadows of cocktail parties and bars. That specter is Black Swan. Going into No Strings Attached I had resolved to not think of Black Swan. But as I waited for my friend before the screening the trailer was playing on loop in the AMC’s atrium, only reinforcing what I already knew: I’d have to compare these two films.

When news of No Strings Attached hit the blogosphere there was much discussion regarding how Natalie Portman could have gone from Black Swan to a RomCom (or more importantly in my view, from Vincent Cassel to Ashton Kutcher). But in reality it’s not much of a leap. Both films are fantasies and both have Portman playing a rather nasty character. But in No String Attached she doesn’t just have a nasty doppelgänger – she is rather unpleasant throughout. And that’s just why this light farce fails to string you along.

In NSA, Emma (Portman) and Adam (Kutcher) keep running into each other: camp, college and professional life. It’s at this stage that they strike up a casual sexual relationship. Emma, a doctor, has no time for emotional connection. On the other hand, Adam, an aspiring TV writer, does. Conflicts ensue, conflicts are resolved, hands are held. Roll credits.

Like most RomComs NSA is a fantasy. A fantasy of a world where doctors-in-residence have sprawling apartments, women orgasm in 30 seconds and where you can be a terrible person without repercussions. Embarking on their no strings attached affair, Emma and Adam lay down some ground rules: no deep eye contact, no flowers, but most of all, no spooning. Spooning to Emma is like that music to Cylons inBattlestar Galatica (or if you aren’t that dorky, like an alcoholic watching Snooki on the latest episode of Jersey Shore) – in short, it’s triggering. When Adam accidentally slips a spoon in one night Emma snaps, shuts down and becomes inexplicably miserable. Now, in real life you may have to deal with that type of behaviour without explanation. But in a movie scriptwriters should have the courtesy to develop her spooning neurosis so we can understand and thus forgive her.

RomComs work because you want the heroine to be happy; we want Queen Latifah to get with Common, or Julie Delpy to stay with Adam Goldberg. We want this because they are decent characters with a lot to give. But we are never sure this is the case with Emma. When she realizes the error of her ways and rushes to tell Adam we’re pretty sure he deserves better. And worst of all, part you of is hoping she won’t make it to tell him (she is texting behind the wheel…). But hey, that’s just my fantasy.

~ Kiva Reardon

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