Although this movie-award season may be feeling a little like all Natalie Portman, all the time, you'll forgive the actress for the overexposure if you see "No Strings Attached."
This lightweight, R-rated comedy came out last weekend, in between Portman's Golden Globe win for best actress in "Black Swan," and her Oscar nomination for the role, announced earlier this week.
"No Strings Attached" isn't going to win any awards, although it did knock off "The Green Hornet" atop of the box-office charts. But as opposed to her "Black Swan" role, (aptly described as "psycho ballerina" by one of my Facebook Friends), this time she's not scary or dangerous, especially to herself.
The role of a young emergency room doc in a strictly sexual, emotionally free relationship with Ashton Kutcher's aspiring TV writer gives her a much broader artistic palette with which to be smart, sexy, funny, drunk and a whole lot more lovable.
It's like she got to be Mila Kunis this time.
Dismissed by other movie critics, "No Strings Attached" - the timid title was toned down from "Friends with Privileges" and an even raunchier one that ends with " Buddies"- is appealing mostly because it doesn't take itself very seriously.
The title itself is the first spoiler No strings attached? Yeah, right. The sitcom-y tone and suspicion that I had already seen all the punch lines in the trailers didn't add to my enthusiasm about seeing it.
Which made it that much more of a pleasant surprise. Playwright/screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether and veteran director Ivan Reitman bring some fresh, R-rated winking to the task at hand. And despite their Mutt-and-Jeff differences in stature, Portman and Kutcher provide the requisite chemistry. There's also fun in the supporting ranks from Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Ludacris and Jake M. Johnson.
"No Strings Attached" shows that in this new decade of a young millennium, wearing your heart on your sleeve is definitely passe - spelling it out in a text message is how it's done.
And, as opposed to her win at the Golden Globes - which felt uncomfortably close to her damaged role in "Black Swan" -it gives viewers a lightened-up, more fun-loving Natalie to cheer for when the Oscars are handed out Feb. 27.
Similarly upbeat sentiments infused the announcement of the entire Academy Awards field earlier this week. Instead of the dominant dark tone of several recent best-picture winners, this year's leaders including "The King's Speech," "True Grit" and "The Fighter" offer audiences lots to cheer for.
The emergence of the offbeat Western "True Grit" with 10 nominations after being ignored in the Golden Globes is an enjoyable game changer as awards season gallops to a close.
Oscar-winning smart alecks, Ethan and Joel Coen, are the only writing-directing-brother team around with the audacity to think they could invade territory once associated with iconic patriot John Wayne and turn it into such a wry and ironic place. The man they turned into a legend known as "The Dude" in "The Big Libowski," Jeff Bridges, deftly wins the showdown with the Duke for today's audiences. Fourteen-year-old supporting actress nominee Hailee Steinfeld is the film's secret weapon, but it doesn't hurt to have Matt Damon along for the arcane but oh-so-hip ride.
While "The Fighter" is a feel-good, underdog-victory tale set in the world of boxing, its bounty of supporting acting nominations for Christian Bale, Melissa Leo and Amy Adams attests to the richness of its characters, the talent of director David O. Russell at bringing them out, and the generosity of star-producer Mark Wahlberg for giving them room to shine.
Similarly, the 12 nominations for the entirely wonderful "The King's Speech" is testament not only to superb acting by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter and great directing by Tom Hooper, but to a noble yet engaging and often hilarious story, well worth telling.
That it has usurped "The Social Network's" unsettling look at the birth of Facebook at the front of the Oscar field may attest to Hollywood's lap dog fondness for all things British. But it might signal something else.
Did "The Social Network," which won virtually every major prize in December, peak too soon? For all its brilliance-highlighted in nominations for screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, director David Fincher and star Jesse Eisenberg -it's also a cold reminder that Facebook isn't truly a friendly place.
It feels like Oscar may be having morning-after second thoughts, wondering how that partner who seemed so lovely, bright and exciting the night before turned so lonely, self-absorbed and a little desperate in the light of a new day.
A little like Facebook itself.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.