The King’s Speech is the best movie I’ve seen in 2011. Although it was a close call, I’ve decided that it was ultimately superior to the only other film I’ve seen so far this year, which starred Natalie Portman. Recent press and Oscar buzz is surrounding the Natalie Portman film, which is up for Best Picture. Particularly buzzworthy is a sex scene between Portman and that one cast member from That 70’s Show. At first I thought, “No Strings Attached was nominated for Best Picture?” However, in light of such positive reviews, I am moved to reconsider a film that I thought at first to be a better-than-average romantic comedy in a different context.
Initially, I was puzzled that No Strings Attached would be discussed in the same category as The King’s Speech and The Social Network. At most, it deserved a Best Picture nomination at the Golden Globes, in that special category they reserve for comedies and musicals. You know, the films featuring dramatic actors who play against type in comedic roles (think Johnny Depp in The Tourist or Meryl Streep in Mamma Mia). Although I found that No Strings Attached offered relevant social commentary about our generation’s casual and promiscuous culture, I found the film’s treatment of women ultimately appalling. And then I realized that The Social Network faced the same criticisms as well, so maybe that explained the nomination.
In The Social Network, the actresses are not given meaty enough roles to work with. The parts are weakly fleshed out at the expense of the development of the more complicated male leads. One woman dumps Mark Zuckerberg harshly, forcing him to create a website for rating girls’ attractiveness (and, ultimately, Facebook), another sets her boyfriend’s trash can on fire, and two initiate sex in a bar bathroom on a first date. Compared to their male counterparts, consisting of promising entrepreneurs and future Olympians, the women pale in all substance comparisons. They are merely catalysts used to provoke the men.
No Strings Attached suffers from a similar issue in its depiction of women, specifically with Portman’s character, Dr. Emma Kurtzman. Emma comes from a long line of successful, sex-obsessed but emotionally stunted women in television and film. I call it “The Meredith Grey Problem,” based off the whiny titular character from ABC’s medical drama Grey’s Anatomy (where she delivers classic ultimatums like, “pick me, love me, choose me” and “you don’t get to call me a whore” in hospital operating rooms and stairwells). Characters with this problem usually have successful careers in medicine, bed-hop (mostly in on-call rooms) and can’t really hold meaningful conversation because their careers are so demanding. They also drink a lot of coffee and live with several other female doctors.
The King’s Speech, however, does justice to its female characters. The Duchess of York (Helena Bonham Carter) is the true catalyst for ensuring her husband’s success in overcoming his speech impediment and psychological scars to ascend to the throne. We even get a glimpse of the future Queen Elizabeth II as an inquisitive young child brimming with potential. The film puts a spotlight on loyalty in friendship and marriage while providing commentary on Europe on the verge of the Second World War.
Although The King’s Speech was a terrific film, it lacked some of the social relevance that The Social Network and No Strings Attached delved into. The latter two films define a generation — one of pokers and sexters — in the context of artful cinema. In the end, they offered an accurate description of our casual culture, made more so pronounced by our reliance on social networking sites like Facebook. Perhaps we don’t get a movie like No Strings Attached without poking in The Social Network. Maybe Natalie Portman’s character is Mark Zuckerberg’s creation, the poorly communicative monster to his Frankenstein.
As I write this, I am currently watching the SAG Awards on mute, and it looks like Ms. Portman has won Best Actress. That’s funny; it looks like the scene they are showing is of her fighting with a fellow ballerina, That 70’s Show’s Mila Kunis. Wait a second! This is for Black Swan! Wrong Portman movie. Wrong 70’s Show castmate. In the words of Emily Litella, “Nevermind!”