Battle of the Natalie Portman films: 'No Strings Attached' vs. 'Black Swan'

January 27, 2011|BY BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • Natalie Portman is shown in a scene from "Black Swan."
Fox Searchlight

Natalie Portman is starring in two red-hot films at the moment. The romantic comedy "No Strings Attached" is the No. 1 movie in the country. The psychological thriller "Black Swan" is doing great with critics and putting Portman at the head of the Best Actress Oscar race.  Here is a tale of the tape to compare the two films.  

Portman plays an ...

  •  "Strings":  overworked nurse Emma, who has no time for a serious relationship.
  •  "Swan":  overworked ballerina Nina, who has no time for anything but dancing.

Co-star/partner in sex scenes

  •  "Strings":  Ashton Kutcher ("That 70's Show") as supposedly endearing loser Adam.
  • "Swan":  Mila Kunis ("That 70's Show") as rival dancer Lily.

She gets what makes her happy.

  • Strings":  She uses Adam for sex with the understanding that they won't pursue a relationship.
  •  "Swan":  She lands the much-coveted lead role in "Swan Lake" and is being groomed to become the company's next top star. 

Things with her family aren't so great.

  • "Strings":  Her parents got divorced at a young age, leading her to believe that people aren't supposed to stay with one person forever.  That's her reasoning for not wanting to pursue a relationship with Adam.
  • "Swan":  She lives with her mother, Erica (Barbara Hershey), who gave up her career to raise her and never lets her forget it. Although Nina is an adult, Erica is still a crazed stage mother.  

She engages in self-destructive behavior.

  • "Strings":  She finds fault with every guy she meets, leaving her alone.
  • "Swan":  She claws at herself when she's nervous, putting her in danger of permanent disfigurement.  

She rebukes a guy's advances.

  • "Strings":  There's another doctor who likes her, but she isn't into committed relationships. Good thing, because in a private conversation with Adam, he turns out to be a jerk.
  • "Swan":  Her sleazy director (Vincent Cassel) is defiant of all sorts of boundaries and implies that she can help her career by hooking up with him. 

She feels threatened.

  • "Strings":  She encourages Adam to hook up with other women He likes a sweet, nerdy co-worker named Lucy (Lake Bell). But then she decides that she wants a relationship with Adam after all. Personally, I liked Lucy a lot more and hoped that Adam would end up with her instead.  
  • "Swan":  Lily is quickly made Nina's understudy, and Nina is afraid she'll end up taking over the role entirely. Lily can do the role effortlessly where Nina has to work so hard and agonizes over every detail.

She may be crazy.

  • "Strings":  She shows up drunk at Adam's house and threatens two women he's brought home.
  • "Swan":  She may be turning into a literal black swan, feathers and all. Also, it's possible that she kills someone.  

Subplot that doesn't involve Portman

  • "Strings":  Adam's father (Kevin Kline) keeps hooking up with Adam's ex-girlfriends, making Adam feel inadequate and making us feel grossed out.
  • "Swan":  An older dancer (Winona Ryder) is being pushed out in favor of Nina. She doesn't take the news well.  


  • "Strings":  If you're familiar with the romantic comedy formula, you'll wait impatiently as the film limps to its inevitable conclusion.  
  • "Swan":  The "reality" of the film is debatable and open to interpretation. You won't even be sure of which characters are alive when the credits roll.  

Portman's Oscar chances.

  • "Strings":  None.
  • "Swan":  Great.  She has already won a Golden Globe and a Critic's Choice Award.  Her biggest obstacle at this point is that "No Strings Attached" is enjoying a concurrent release and voters might associate her with the inferior film.

Star rating (out of five)

  • "Strings":  One
  • "Swan":  Four


  • "Strings":  R for sexual content, language, and some drug material.
  • "Swan":  R for strong sexual content, disturbing violent images, language, and some drug use.


  • "Strings":  110 minutes.
  • "Swan":  110 minutes.

The Herald-Mail Articles