“BLACK SWAN DIVA FEUD!” screams the National Enquirer headline. All right, we’re listening. According to “sources” and “an insider,” Ms. Portman is livid (LIVID!) at her Black Swan co-star. Why? Because Ms. Kunis is getting “Oscar talk” for her supporting work, though the film was supposed to be Portman’s showcase, and she is therefore (direct quote) “totally upset.” Well, as much fun as it must be to write anything that includes the phrase “diva feud,” we’re calling poppycock on this notion; anyone paying even a modicum of attention to the Oscar prognosticators knows that Portman is a shoo-in for a Best Actress nomination, and probably for the big prize itself. If there is bad blood brewing between the off-screen friends, we’ve got a better theory: it’s because of their competing 2011 sex comedies.
Yes, in one of those weird cases of Hollywood parallel thinking and stubbornness (which previously led to two animated ants movies, two Truman Capote biopics, and two holy-shit-an-asteroid-is-heading-towards-Earth movies), two R-rated comedies with nearly identical “friends with benefits” plotlines are headed to theaters in 2011 — and the Black Swan co-stars are each fronting one of them. This is strange, right? How did this not come up at the craft service table?
Portman: “Hey, what are you working on after this?” Kunis: “Oh, nothin’ special. Wanna rehearse our make-out scene?” Portman: “Okay!” (They make out.)
Anyway, where was I?
Ah, yes, their movies. Portman’s No Strings Attached is first out of the gate, hitting theaters on January 21; Kunis’s Friends with Benefits will follow suit on July 22. But if you’re one of those frugal types who doesn’t necessarily want to spend your hard-earned coin on two versions of the same story, we’ve put together this point-by-point analysis of the two projects in order to predict which one will come out ahead.
TITLE: Friends with Benefits is clearly the more desirable title — especially since No Strings Attached was filmed with the working title Friends with Benefits, which the filmmakers had to change in order to avoid confusion with the Kunis picture. But at this point, that title may very well be second-hand goods; there was a previous 2009 film bearing that title, and an NBC sitcom by the same name is waiting for a midseason pick-up. By next summer, Friends with Benefits may very well have undergone a title change of its own.
DIRECTOR: No Strings Attached is helmed by comedy legend Ivan Reitman, whose filmography includes Stripes, Meatballs, and the Ghostbusters films; Friends with Benefits is the work of considerably less-known Will Gluck. But wait — Reitman’s last film was the 2006 stinker My Super Ex-Girlfriend, and he’s also responsible for such missed opportunities as Father’s Day and Six Days Seven Nights. This is only Gluck’s third movie, but his last picture was the sly, breezy, utterly delightful Easy A.
CO-STAR: Kunis’s leading man in Friends with Benefits is Justin Timberlake, while her That ’70s Show co-star Ashton Kutcher pairs up with Portman in No Strings Attached. A couple of years ago, this one would’ve been a serious toss-up — who’s less loathsome, the Punk’ d host or the former N’ Syncer? But Timberlake has proven himself an honest-to-goodness actor, equally skilled in drama (The Social Network) and comedy (Saturday Night Live), while Kutcher was in, um, Killers and Valentine’s Day.
SUPPORTING CAST: No Strings Attached lists Kevin Kline, Cary Elwes, The Office writer/co-star Mindy Kaling, Juno‘s Olivia Thirlby, and Greenberg breakout Greta Gerwig among its supporting players; Friends with Benefits also features Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Rashida Jones, Patricia Clarkson, Andy Samberg, and Richard Jenkins.
ADVANTAGE: Neither — both casting directors scored stellar ensembles. (Okay, maybe No Strings Attached gets a minor ding for featuring Lake Bell.)
TRAILER: Here’s where the rubber meets the road — the best indication of which picture will be more worth your time. Let’s watch together, shall we?
While the progression of events looks entirely predictable and the prominent placement of a Meatballs poster reeks of self-congratulation, No Strings Attached doesn’t look half-bad — as far as January wide releases go. The trailer indicates some breezy charm and laughs (“That is a terrible, self-destructive plan, and we’re behind you a hundred percent”), though, inexplicably, there is not a Kevin Kline in sight. But it still looks like the best movie Ashton Kutcher’s ever done.
This one is more of a teaser for the summer release, so we don’t get a terribly clear idea of the details of the situation, or much of a look at the supporting cast (No Emma Stone? Is there no justice?). There aren’t many laughs and Timberlake’s line readings are a little mannered, but this “red-band” trailer does allow for some spicier clips, suggestions of nudity, and profanity-laden humor.
ADVANTAGE: Portman, but just barely.
OVERALL: Two for Portman, two for Kunis, and one toss-up. Sorry guys, but our scientific methodology appears to have faltered; you may just have to decide this one on your own.