Your Weekend of Empty Pleasure at the Movies

01/21/2011 8:56 AM |

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No Strings Attached: I don’t know if it’s just stir-crazy winter blues or what, but I’m becoming disturbingly susceptible to the annual January romantic comedy that used to showcase the likes of Jennifer Lopez or Katherine Heigl. It doesn’t help studios have reached out to more engaging, crushworthy actresses for these parts: last year it was Amy Adams, who I adore [And also Kristen Bell! -Ed.], and this year, it’s Natalie Portman, who, ditto. At first, the primary buzz on No Strings Attached was its ridiculous ease of confusion with Friends with Benefits, another romantic comedy about friends who are trying to keep their relationship to casual fucking, coming this summer and also starring both Black Swan and That 70s Show alums (Friends with Benefits efficiently combines them into one, Mila Kunis-shaped person, while No Strings Attached splits responsibilities between Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher). Then, in publicity familiar, granted, mainly to people who read way too much entertainment-related faux-journalism, it became known as a potential carrier of the Norbit effect for Natalie Portman at this year’s Oscars.

Let me explain: the Norbit effect is the idea that when Eddie Murphy was garnering awards attention for his supporting turn in Dreamgirls, he cost himself the award by releasing his latest fat-suit-drag comedy, Norbit, in the midst of his serious awards campaign (and, actually, to grosses fairly similar to Dreamgirls). Since then, awards bloggers, feeling the stress of having a job that is pointless for three months of the year and mega-pointless for the other nine, have been eager to float heirs to the Norbit throne of Oscar-scuttling.

This is an extremely stupid notion that sorely underestimates the ill will produced by not Norbit in particular but Eddie Murphy’s horrible career in general, not to mention Murphy himself, a legendarily unpleasant figure who likely cost himself a meaningless award by continuing to be legendarily unpleasant, not so much by continuing to appear in other non-Dreamgirls movies. Natalie Portman would need to borrow Katherine Heigl’s filmography (and uptight-irritant persona) to even think about approaching a Murphy-level awards slip, and even then, have you seen this girl’s face? She’s extremely not-unpleasant. Also, Norbit looked amazingly awful. No Strings Attached looks, at worst, innocuous and vapid. If Oscar voters refused to give awards to actors who appear in innocuous and/or vapid movies, we’d be debating whether Michelle Williams doing a few years on Dawson’s Creek would cost her the Oscar, and then concluding no, probably not, because she’s the only one nominated. Bottom line: there is no Norbit effect unless you are actually starring in a movie called Norbit.

Anyway, whatever, I want to see this stupid, innocuous-and-vapid-looking movie, not just because Natalie Portman is pretty, but because the deep bench of a supporting cast includes Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling, Olivia Thirlby, and Kevin Kline—though Editor Mark’s review indicates that no, Ivan Reitman didn’t really know what to do with that many talented people. But really, the only impediment for me at the moment is Ashton Kutcher; if this movie starred Topher Grace, not only would I want to see it, but I wouldn’t be ashamed at all.

The Way Back: Yeah, I mean, for example, this weekend, instead of seeing the new Peter Weir adventure drama with a totally legit cast, I want to see No Strings Attached. Give me a break, it’s icy outside.