Tuesday, January 18, 2011

No Strings Attached: A Rant in Three Movements.

One of the excellent things about vacation, as we all know, is having the time to catch up on all those leisure activities school almost inevitably rules out: reading, guitar-ing, nail-painting—or, most likely, watching hours upon hours of online television. This latter pastime took up a decent amount of my last few days home, still laid low with Cold & therefore on a very funky & misanthropic sleep schedule—the cure for which seemed to be drownings in Daily Show back-issues & re-re-re-viewings of all Logo shows that feature RuPaul. In doing so, however, something has come to my attention—not because I wanted it to, mind you, but because both Comedy Central & Logo have sold it quite literally all of their ad space, such that the same two thirty second spots come on back to back, every single commercial break. This something, this bothersome blotch on my entertainment experience (& my general consciousness as a sentient being) is, in fact, the forthcoming exercise in snooze-worthy Romantic Comedy, No Strings Attached. (Click for trailer-itude.)

Though normally I suspend judgment until after I've seen the film behind even the most painfully stupid of trailers, I feel that, in this case, such postponement is unnecessary. I think I can safely say, hand wavering above my crystal ball (re: watching one of its four TV spots for the 794th time), that this movie is, plainly put, the worst—a bloated & depressing amalgamation of every painfully stupid rom-com convention scraped into a lumpy pile of utter failure. Okay, it's possible that my view is somewhat clouded by the truly inhuman amount of times I've been asked to look at its excuse for advertising—but, hyperbole aside, here are a few of my infinite problems with this future box-office bomb (please, Dog—if there's any justice left in the universe...).

1) An Open Letter to Natalie Portman.

Dear Natalie Portman,

As you are no doubt aware, you are about to be nominated for a bevy of prestigious awards, after a spectacular (& spectacularly demanding) role in one of the best films to come out this year. You just worked under (genius on toast) Darren Aronofsky, were held parallel to Winona Ryder, & got cozy with Vincent Cassel & Mila Kunis respectively. While I understand, therefore, that a role opposite Ashton Kutcher allows you one more notch in your "I Movie-Boffed the Cast of That 70s Show" punchcard, I think there are greater ramifications to consider in jumping from a smart & moving piece of art to this deformed excuse for a film.

Really, though: the former presents the psychologically complex story of a perfectionist cracking under pressure, replete with interweaving lines of symbolism & understated suspense, while the latter centers around period jokes & unfunny references to Up. & did I mention Ashton Kutcher? What else does this man have to do to earn himself a permanent Dignity Vacuum stigma? Does no one else remember Punk'd? How about that physically-painfully stupid movie he made with Brittany Murphy (RIP, Tai) about a honeymoon-gone-wrong in Europe? I find it next to impossible that I'm the only one who feels this way.

So maybe you were in the crappy modern Star Wars movies, & sure, your way of pronouncing certain consonants makes me want to strangle puppies, but that doesn't change the fact that you're better than this, ladyfriend. Seriously now.

Kisses & Snuggles,

P.S. I would totally support you shaving your head again. Just saying—it looked awesome.

2) Imagining this plot is the more expedient version of a lobotomy.

There are only two ways this movie could end. Seriously: even the tagline spells it out in binary terms: "Can Sex Friends Stay Best Friends?" So, either the answer is yes, & everyone sheds a tear for the 21st century (with a simultaneous cringe at the term "Sex Friends), or—as anyone with a basic understanding of the causal order of a sentence will bet—the answer is no, & the two protagonists end up together. I mean, I would include the third option of "No, & after a blow-out argument, they part ways, never see each other again," or even the fourth option of "No, because they were both the same person all along, & now, in a race against time, they have to disarm a missile aimed at the Pentagon by Katherine Heigl," but both of these options seem more than slightly to the left of what this advertising calls for.

& while we're talking plot, let me just add quickly: This would Never. Happen. I mean, of course I've grasped that films are fictional—that hobbits & wizards don't actually hang out in the New Zealand countryside, etc.—but in such non-fantastical settings, when your movie is clearly placing itself in the "Telling It Like It Is About Relationships" paradigm, I feel it's not invalid for me to point out that this kind of relationship does not occur naturally in the world. Or, if it does, it's because movies like this are made, & two people with ad space for brains decide to give it a go. Really, though: best friends who suddenly realize they're sexually attracted to each other (already straining the bounds of probability, but fine), & yet refuse to start a relationship, because... Why? Because there are 100 minutes of screen time left to use up is the real reason, but it seems incongruous to me that two people who are "best friends" (re: communicate often in a way that is pleasant to both) would be unable to outline something slightly less schizophrenic than Friends With Benefits that suits both their needs. I mean, Natalie Portman's character explains that she doesn't want to eat breakfast with her man in the morning, Ashton agrees to those terms, & yet they insist on being Sex Friends instead of Girl/Boyfriend Who Don't Eat Together In the Morning.

(This segment of) my real problem, I think, is not with the movie itself, but with what it aggressively exemplifies: I really, strongly dislike the way our (pop) culture has created this Thing called a Relationship™, with all its predictable stages & homogenized definitions—a marketing tool posing as a life choice. It's touted as the Next Level for the sexually involved; once your dating HP is high enough, you're implicitly prescribed a certain number of phone calls per week, texts per hour, dates per month, lavishness on Valentines Day—not because any of this matters to your emotional health, per se, but because it sells more copies of Glamour, which are intentionally besotted with articles about how many calls per week, on & on. In fact, I say, a relationship is a relationship: you have one with every person you know, as long as you have some relation to them. &, when one turns Romantic, it ought to do so on your terms, not Cosmo's.

Also, in that vein: while I have no real problem with the basic concept of No Strings Attached Sex, I do think it's a little dicy to base your plot around two characters daring each other to sleep together repeatedly without developing feelings. Because, as all we callous youngsters know, feelings are for losers (of this contest, at least), & sex is better when 100% separate from them—"without love getting in the way," as the trailer so eloquently puts it. Sarcasm lenses removed: I think that's a bummer of a message. Which is why I'm almost positive that this movie will end with its opposite—or, if it doesn't, is pseudo-unconscionable. Which is why seeing it is, as aforementioned, inconsequential.

3) That. Fucking. Balloon.

Because it's called No Strings Attached! Get it, guys? Get it? Because balloons have strings, right?! & so do N*Sync songs relationship metaphors! So, see, this movie is clever. There's, like, symbolism. It's totally not possible that this screenwriter was flicking through Real Housewives re-runs with one hand & doing basic Sudoku with the other, while periodically grunting into a faulty vocoder a script that makes the Glee writers look like Mensa scholars. I swear to you, if this movie's "I really loved you all along!" climactic scene involves a balloon metaphor—or, really, stringed objects of any kind—I may suffer a psychotic break.

To guard against this very real possibility—or, at least, to soften the blow somewhat—I took these past five minutes to dredge up every balloon metaphor I could & cram them all into this totally rawkin' Romantic Comedy Climactic Speech:

"[Natalie Portman character], wait!"
"What, [Ashton Kutcher character]?"
"It's just— I—"
"What?! What else could you possibly have left to say?"
"I— You— We're like balloons."
"Like what?"
[ She turns, disgustedly, to leave. ]
"No, wait! Hear me out. Like that balloon I gave you after we first got together. Except—well—I think we were more like the kind clowns use to make the animals: bending to what we thought the other wanted, twisting ourselves into all these shapes. Fun & inconsequential—no strings attached. [ Bing! ] But even those get old after a while. No matter how nice they look for a day or two, they always start to wilt. Party decorations deflating after some long-past birthday, sinking lower & lower. That's where I was: hovering, just above the ground, just waiting to pop. But then, you came along, & I started floating again. I started flying. It felt so good, I forgot that helium balloons can be even trickier: if you don't keep them tied down right, they just float away into nothing & leave some poor kid on the ground, wondering what he did wrong. [ Pause for effect. ] So, what I'm trying to say, [Natalie Portman character], is that... Well... You're my helium. & I can think of nothing better than being tied to a cart with you for the rest of my life, as a vaguely homeless-looking man drags us through tourist destinations. Because without you? [ Voice-quiver-rising-inflection. ] I float away."
"Oh, [Ashton Kutcher character]! You had me at 'vaguely homeless-looking'!"

Today's Headphone Fodder:

Well, Did You Ever?—Iggy Pop & Debbie Harry.

In case you were curious, this is basically what happens when you take the contents of my brain, shake them up, run them through a blender, & add salt. In short, it's deeply excellent, profoundly bizarre, furnished with a kind of grotesque beauty, & full of farm animals.

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