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Natalie Portman's 'No Strings Attached' Sex

Does the new movie "No Strings Attached" portray casual sex in an intelligent way that's respectful of alternative sexual arrangements? What do you think?

You may have seen the saucy, sexy previews and ads for the super-hyped new movie, No Strings Attached. Paramount is clearly pushing this film, not as just another romantic comedy about women hunting for marriage and men succumbing to its sweet inevitability, but as a daring, edgy, ultra-modern exploration of the "new" relationship models: casual, non-romantic, commitment-free sexual friendships, in which both women and men go in with no expectation of a capital-R Relationship, and no desire for it.

It's always interesting to see how mainstream media treats gender and sexuality. And as a sex writer with a focus on unconventional sexuality, I'm especially curious when it purports to be shattering myths and breaking new ground. My hopes weren't high for this one -- I've seen way too many Hollywood movies titillate themselves and their audiences with transgressive sexual possibilities and then firmly drag everyone back into safe conventionality. But I've been wrong before. I've gone into more than a few movies prepared to be bored and irritated, and come out surprised and delighted and raving to everyone I know.

Not this time.

Before I get into everything that's stupid and annoying and just plain wrong with the sexual politics of No Strings Attached -- and believe me, there's a lot that's wrong with these sexual politics -- let's get this out of the way: This is not a good movie. A romantic comedy (and I use both words with grave reservations) about long-term acquaintances who try to turn their friendship into one with benefits, No Strings Attached is fake, implausible, and entirely disconnected from human reality. It's not even interested in being authentic, plausible, or connected to human reality. It's interested in aggregating some cute moments and raunchy moments and heart-tugging moments and a bunch of juvenile sex jokes that would make a 12-year-old cringe... and half-assedly stringing them onto a tediously predictable storyline that plays like it was written by a computer programmed by a committee who all read the same stupid screenwriters' bible. The moment when Emma casually invites Adam to "this thing she's doing," and it turns out to be a family funeral... that was the moment I knew that this movie was aiming solely for cheap laughs, and was not remotely interested in any of the things human beings actually do. It's a moment that takes place approximately 10 minutes in.

And that, in fact, is a huge amount of what's wrong with the movie's sexual politics.

They're fake.

I suppose I should summarize the plot here. But there really isn't much to summarize. Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are long-time friends -- acquaintances, really -- who've always been a little interested in each other. They have an impulsive sexual tryst one day, and decide, for not very well explained reasons, that instead of being lovers, they should be friends with benefits, with no romance and no commitment and no strings attached. Wacky hijinks ensue. Or, more accurately: Hijinks ensue that are intended to be wacky, but are, in fact, predictable to the point of tedium. Hijinks ensue, not because it would be natural for the characters to hijink in that manner, but because said hijinking is what the screenwriters think will be funny.

Which brings me back to the fakery. The sexual politics of No Strings Attached have nothing to do with the sexual things people actually do. They have nothing to do with how sexual relationships are changing: the ways that people are questioning assumptions about what sexual relationships have to look like, breaking down the standard categories and inventing new ones... and how these re-inventions from the fringe are filtering into the mainstream.

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