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Natalie Portman’s first comedy of the year, and a return to the big screen for director Ivan Reitman. But is No Strings Attached any good?

2011 looks like it may be the year that Natalie Portman follows up her award-worthy performance in Black Swan with the Ivan Reitman directed romantic comedy No Strings Attached, pairing a serious and more �worthy’ film with something fluffier, presumably to cleanse herself of all the psychological trauma and baggage that comes with playing a demented ballerina. This has come to be known (by me) as the �Coens gambit’. The alternating of tones, I mean. Not the ballerina thing.

Portman’s co-star is Ashton Kutcher, who is, of course, famous both for being Bruce Willis’s son (apologies to Ricky Gervais) and for irritating other celebrities in MTV prank show Punk’d.

(A quick digression: the print of No Strings Attached I saw was accompanied by the trailer for Justin Bieber’s upcoming 3D concert film Never Say Never, a surprise that was met with audibly pained gasps of horror from the audience. The Kutcher-helmed Punk’d finished in 2007, but it was recently announced that the concept was due to be revived and reimagined, Batman Begins-style, with a new presenter at the helm, Justin Bieber. Such is the intricate tapestry of asinine 21st century pop bullshit.)

It soon becomes clear, however, that Emma has �intimacy issues’ and just wants sex, no romance, no hand-holding, no hugging, and no learning

Kutcher plays Adam, a wannabe TV writer who is struggling to get his scripts noticed, at least without employing some serious nepotism on behalf of his dad (Kevin Kline), who happens to be a famous sitcom actor. When Adam discovers Dad has been sleeping with his ex-girlfriend, he gets paralysingly drunk and calls everybody in his phone book in desperate need of a rebound hook-up.

Eventually, he wakes up naked and on the sofa of Emma (Portman), a girl we have already been introduced to in a couple of rather pointless prologue scenes that seem to exist solely to employ a couple of child actors and give the cast the chance to wear some different clothes.

After some flirtatious teasing, Emma eventually grants him the steamy liaison he was after, and the two begin seeing each other on a regular basis.

The female lead in a romantic comedy is a commitment phobe, and the male lead is the one pushing for a relationship!

Adam, however, can’t help but wish things would go a little further. Yes, you read that right. Dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria!

This is the big hook of No Strings Attached, and while it doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, it is quite good to see the conventions of the genre played with, even if it is only slightly, and to be presented with a relationship that doesn’t romanticise and sentimentalise sex to the ludicrous degree that most romantic comedies end up doing.

This is largely down to Natalie Portman’s performance, who is very convincing as a modern, career-focused woman who sees her sexual relationships as purely functional. It’s hard to convey this type of character (of which, I’d argue, there are just as many as there are Darcy-obsessed Bridget Joneses) without veering into slutty and /or ice maiden territory. But she does an excellent job in avoiding both, making you care about her. It doesn’t hurt that’s she gob-smackingly beautiful either, obviously.

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