Tag Archives: Natalie Portman

How And Why “No Strings Attached” Became My Favorite Romance Movie

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A few years back, I cited “Crazy/Beautiful,” an underrated cinematic gem from 2001, as my favorite romance movie. That movie, which I feel has aged better than similar movies from previous decades, has a special place in my heart and it always will. It was the first romance movie that I genuinely enjoyed as both a movie and a love story.

However, I’m here to announce that my ranking has recently changed. I still love “Crazy/Beautiful,” but it is no longer my favorite romance movie. That rank now belongs to “No Strings Attached,” the sexy romantic comedy from 2011 starring Ashton Kutcher and future Thor, Natalie Portman. As of this moment, it’s a rank that will be very difficult for any future movie to top.

The premise of “No Strings Attached” and how it became my favorite romance movie is a remarkable story, in and of itself. This is one of those movies I didn’t expect to be so impactful. I ignored it when it initially came out in theaters. The premise sounded generic and it didn’t help that a similar (and inferior) movie called “Friends With Benefits” came out at the same time.

This is even less romantic than it looks.

It’s a common romance trope. Two people decide to eschew traditional dating methods and just stick to sex. They don’t want anything serious. They just want steady, enjoyable sex, minus the complications that relationships bring. It starts off fun and sexy. Then, things get serious when emotion and jealousy enter the picture. Eventually, both characters realize they love each other and that’s the end of that.

It’s not an overly elaborate premise for a love story. I’ve written more than my share of those as an aspiring erotica/romance writer. It can be a great love story when done right. The problem is it’s rarely done right. It’s also painfully predictable. It’s next to impossible to evoke decent drama when the conflicts and resolutions are so obvious. That was what made “Friends With Benefits.”

That was also why it I didn’t bother seeing “No Strings Attached” for years. I thought it seemed too generic. Then, on a whim, I decided to check it out on Hulu. I fully expected to turn it off halfway through once the plot settled into familiar patterns. I freely admit I was dead wrong. I pre-judged this movie and that was a mistake on my part.

By the time the credits rolled, I was smiling from ear-to-ear and shaking my head in disbelief. This movie did something I didn’t expect it to do. I didn’t even think it was possible, given the sheer volume of romance I’ve written and consumed. It struck all the emotional chords it needed to and then some. Most romance movies these days are lucky if they can strike just a few.

To appreciate this, you can’t just look at the movie through its general plot summary. At its core, “No Strings Attached” follows the basic script of two people agreeing to casual sex in lieu of a formal relationship. However, what makes this movie stand out is how it navigates this premise through its two main characters, Emma Kurtzman and Adam Franklin.

Before these two characters ever start having sex, the movie takes time to establish who they are and why they decide to seek such an arrangement. Adam and Emma aren’t just a couple of attractive strangers who cross paths and decide they like casual sex. They’ve actually known each other for years, albeit informally.

The first 10 minutes of the movie are dedicated to showing that they both end up in such a frustrating place in their personal lives. Adam just broke up with his girlfriend, Vanessa. Then, his father, a former TV star, decides to start dating her. Naturally, that leaves him pretty messed up.

Emma’s situation is not much better. Before they reconnect, her father dies and she doesn’t demonstrate the greatest coping skills. Later on, her sister, Katie, is getting married and her coping skills still haven’t improved. Neither she nor Adam are complete wrecks, but they’re trying to navigate difficult personal matters and failing miserably.

These issues have nothing to do with romance, sex, or loneliness. They’re legitimate, relatable issues that real people deal with, even if they’re not as attractive as Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. That makes their problems and their need for comfort feel genuine. It also makes their pursuit of a more casual, less complicated relationship more understandable.

This is where both the story and the romantic chemistry in “No Strings Attached” gains its endearing appeal. It helps that it’s a very sexy appeal, as well, but that’s only ever secondary, at most. As Adam and Emma pursue their new arrangement, we see that it’s not just fun and sexy. It’s genuinely good for them.

Being together in this unique arrangement helps them in many ways. They’re better able to navigate the other issues in their lives. Some of those issues have to do with work. Adam is trying to make it as a writer on a TV show while Emma is trying to further her career as a doctor. Others are on a more personal front with Adam’s dad being a heavy source of drama.

Whatever the issues, the relationship helps Emma and Adam in ways that are subtle, but noticeable. Being together, even if it isn’t romantic, is genuinely good for them. Even when new stresses enter the picture, they help each other get through it. They get to a point where you can’t help but root for them, both as individuals and as a couple.

That journey to something more serious than casual lovers does happen, but it’s chaotic. Considering how predictable stories about casual lovers tend to be, this is one of the most refreshing parts of “No Strings Attached.” It doesn’t happen all at once. There are even some major setbacks along the way. However, there’s a clear and logical progression with Adam and Emma’s romantic journey.

They start out as casual acquaintances.

Then, they start enjoying each other’s company.

Then, they become friends.

Then, they become lovers.

Then, they start to legitimately care about one another.

Then, they start to develop deeper feelings for one another.

Then, they confront those feelings together.

Finally, they fall in love.

Again, it’s not a smooth transition. There are moments in which the extent of their romantic connection is unclear. What Adam and Emma want from one another seems to fluctuate, which makes them feel very human. While it never comes off as entirely one-sided, it never feels like a bland love story in the mold of a fairy tale.

In addition, “No Strings Attached” also avoids the common trap of making sex seem like this huge complication for real romance. In many other love stories of this nature, sex is often framed as this make-or-break act for a couple. Either having sex destroys the romance or it makes the romance inevitable. It gives the impression that you can’t have sex without falling in love.

Beyond reinforcing harmful notions espoused by repressive purity culture, it undercuts the substance of the romance. It implies that it’s contingent on sex in order to blossom. The romance and the sex in “No Strings Attached” is portrayed with more complexity. One never depends on the other, but they do plenty to complement each other.

Ultimately, great sex isn’t the reason Emma and Adam start to fall in love with one another. It acts more as a catalyst. By being together, they’re not just happier and more sexually satisfied. They become better at navigating the various quirks of their respective lives. That’s basically the epitome of a healthy romance.

More than anything else, the end of the movie clearly establishes that these two people want to be together. Their love is not something they can’t avoid or escape. It’s not bound by destiny and ordained by higher forces. Emma and Adam get together because they choose to.

The love they find is not some burden that provokes jealousy or loneliness. They end up together because they want to be together. Their love works because it’s real, sincere, and genuine. This is what makes the final few minutes of the movie the most cathartic I’ve ever experienced in a romance movie. It was those final minutes that sealed “No Strings Attached” as my new favorite romance movie.

There are many other elements of this movie that I could praise for hours on end. I could probably write an entire book on why this movie worked so much better than “Friends With Benefits.” I’ll save that discussion for another time. For now, I encourage anyone out there with a taste for romance to check this movie out. Give it a chance, like I did. Let me know if it had a similar impact.

I don’t doubt more romance movies will come along and challenge “No Strings Attached” for the title of my favorite. I watch more romance movies than most straight men and it may only be a matter of time before another movie comes along that exceeds both this and “Crazy/Beautiful.” I honestly look forward to that day, but “No Strings Attached” sets the bar pretty damn high.

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Why Natalie Portman Becoming Thor Is The Biggest Story From San Diego Comic Con 2019

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If you’re a fan of comic books, superhero movies, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this past weekend was like Christmas, Halloween, the 4th of July, and the Super Bowl all rolled into one. The San Diego Comic Con is essentially the epicenter of geek culture. In recent years, it has only gotten bigger, becoming a staging area for major pop culture events. This latest convention was no exception.

While there was plenty of news to follow at this year’s Comic Con, especially for X-Men fans like me, the biggest event was always going to be Marvel Studios. It has already been a historic year for superhero movies, especially on the Marvel side of the genre. Shortly before the convention began, “Avengers Endgame” officially passed “Avatar” to become the highest grossing movie of all time.

It’s a good time to be Kevin Feige.

It’s a good time to be Bob Iger.

It’s a good time to be a Marvel fan, in general.

With the end of “Avengers Endgame,” however, the story that began in 2008 “Iron Man” has concluded. The Avengers assembled in a truly spectacular battle for the ages. Thanos is defeated. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is once again secure, but after making the highest grossing movie of all time, how can Marvel Studios keep raising the bar like this?

In Hall H of the San Diego Convention Center, the next phase of the MCU was finally revealed. Some of the announcements were expected. News of a “Black Widow” movie, as well as an “Eternals” movie, had already been reported months ago. News of a “Blade” movie within the MCU was more surprising, but that wasn’t the biggest story by a long shot.

By far, the biggest Marvel Studios news to come out of San Diego Comic Con 2019 was Natalie Portman returning as Jane Foster to play a female Thor. I’m not going to lie. When I saw this news, I had to blink a few times and slap myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. Once certain this was real, it finally sunk in.

Natalie Portman is returning the MCU as Jane Foster to play a female Thor.

To appreciate why this is a huge deal to longtime comic readers like me, I need to provide a little context. Jane Foster being Thor is a concept that only recently gained prominence, thanks to one of Marvel’s top-tier writers, Jason Aaron.

Back in 2014, the Thor comics underwent a major upheaval. After a fateful encounter with Nick Fury, Thor suddenly became unworthy of lifting Mjolnir. It was a dramatic moment that defined the character for years to come. Then, after everyone in Asgard failed to lift the hammer, Jane Foster came along to wield it. In doing so, she became the new Thor.

If you haven’t read the first few volumes of that story, I cannot recommend them highly enough. Even if you’ve only seen the movies, you’ll still find plenty to love about these comics. They made me a fan of both Thor and Jane Foster. If Marvel Studios and Natalie Portman can even capture a fraction of this story’s greatness, then it’ll be a bold new era for superhero movies.

Now, make no mistake. Jane Foster becoming Thor was not without controversy. In fact, the timing of this story couldn’t have been worse. It came out right around the same time that efforts to promote diversity within superhero comics had become mired in regressive politics. It was a time when iconic characters were being replaced and new characters were being created, albeit with mixed results.

This is how mixed it got and NOT in a good way.

I’d rather not go into all the issues, controversies, and absurdities from that era, but I will say that Jane Foster becoming Thor was one of the success stories from that tenuous period. Her journey as the new Thor didn’t supplant that of her predecessor. If anything, it complemented his story. The title of Thor was greatly improved because Jane Foster wielded that hammer.

Now, Marvel Studios is in an even better position to do the same. The success of both “Wonder Woman” and “Captain Marvel” has established that there is a market for female superheroes. The events of “Avengers Endgame” also opened the door for someone else to step in without diminishing Chris Hemsworth’s character, who may still have a part to play in “Guardians of the Galaxy 3.”

It also helps that Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster has been MIA since the events of “Thor: The Dark World.” While her reasons for leaving were somewhat obscure, the announcement at San Diego left no room for ambiguity. She’s coming back and she’s going to play a major role in the next phase of the MCU.

In my opinion, this will go down as one of the most pivotal announcements in the history of the MCU. Why do I believe this is bigger than the Eternals, Blade, Black Widow, or any of the upcoming shows on the Disney+ streaming service? To answer that, it’s necessary to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

The Jane Foster that Natalie Portman played in the first two Thor movies is not the same Jane Foster who has established herself as a prominent force in the comics. Throughout her history, she has maintained a strong connection to Thor and not just as a romantic interest. In many respects, she has been the character through which ordinary, non-Asgardian people explore Thor’s world of gods, demigods, and monsters.

A big part of what made Jason Aaron’s story surrounding Jane Foster becoming Thor so powerful was how she proved her worthiness of that title. As a mortal woman with many mortal limitations, she embraced that role and proved herself against gods, monsters, and even other superheroes. It was easy to cheer her on every step of the way.

In any era, it’s a powerful story, having an ordinary human embrace god-like power to bear god-like burdens. In this current era of superhero movies, Jane Foster becoming Thor isn’t just a fitting, comics-accurate way to build her story in the MCU. It’s a story that almost feels necessary.

The MCU is a world that has become densely populated by super soldiers, aliens, gods, monsters, and demigods. With the conclusion of “Avengers Endgame,” the world is in a tenuous state. Friendships, families, and teams have been decimated due to the conflict surrounding Thanos and the Infinity Stones. There are voids to be filled, including a few once populated by gods.

Ordinary people becoming heroes is a story that the MCU has told many times before, the latest being “Spider-Man: Far From Home.” Stories about ordinary people becoming gods haven’t been nearly as common and with the Eternals already poised to join the MCU, I think that story should play out in some manner, if only to keep humanity connected to this world.

Jane becoming the Goddess of Thunder is the perfect story to maintain that connection. Unlike Carol Danvers, Jane is not a soldier or a warrior. She’s a scientist who got caught up in the world of gods and superheroes, but she didn’t run from it in the comic. Now, armed with Natalie Portman’s Oscar-winning talent, she’s poised to make a similar journey in a world that needs new heroes to step up.

It’s an exciting, but uncertain time for the MCU. However, when you’ve got a story like that of Jane Foster becoming Thor and an actress as talented as Natalie Portman leading the way, the future has never been brighter.

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Filed under Marvel, movies, superhero comics, superhero movies, Wonder Woman