Besides me, almost all the others in the audience were females and either late teenagers or in their early 20s, which must be considered No Strings Attached's core audience. And unlike me, they really liked the film, right from the beginning. Whereas I saw the jokes coming a mile off, and felt that it was poorly written, directed and acted, the others in the audience apparently didn't feel like that. They all laughed at the right moments, sighed at the right moments and in general made all the right noices at the appropriate times. They also liked the sight of Mr Kutcher's bare buttocks. And as I sat there it occurred to me that as much as I might think that the film was rather bad, it clearly wasn't, because the audience reacted exactly as the filmmakers had anticipated, and afterwards I heard many of them say that they really liked it, that it was sooo sweet and funny. In short, the film did a beautiful job catering to its target audience. It cost around $25 000 000 to make, and so far it has made around $103 000 000, so it has already by far covered its costs. Considering that it is R rated, it could not hope to do all that well any way.
No Strings Attached is not the kind of film that would be considered a "good" film, a quality film, by critics, intellectuals, scholars, not even by adults in general. It will most likely not be written about in film history books or discussed at seminars. It is also the kind of film where I have to explain my decision to go and watch it. Had I gone to see that other Portman film, Black Swan (2010) nobody would have asked me "Why?". This is not because No Strings Attached is a romantic comedy, plenty of romantic comedies are well-liked and, well, accepted, and can be watched without explanations. No, it is because No Strings Attached is not a "good" film. And people would "know" this without having seen it.
But what exactly are the criteria for what constitutes a good film? That it is visually rich? Emotionally engaging? Socially conscious? Well, maybe, but what is that any way? What does it mean to be emotionally engaging? For whom? And why is that important? We're none the wiser. The girls at the screening of No Strings Attached were most certainly engaged in the story. No, the efforts to try and define what is a good film and what is a bad film, outside of our own personal hangups and feelings, will most likely remain fruitless. This is of course not particularly revolutionary, but most people, perhaps especially those that have, shall we say, educated tastes, talk and act like such definitions do exist, even if they in public would deny it.
However, there might be an objective criteria for what is a good film, but one that doesn't deal with any inherent qualities in the actual film, but rather the interaction between the film and the audience. That criteria would be that a good film is a film that is liked by its intended audience. That is a tough criteria to live up to, and the teenagers that watch No Strings Attached are just as harsh and demanding an audience as are the most highbrow critics. It is only that they demand different things. And judging by this criteria No Strings Attached is a pretty good film. Better perhaps than some films by, say, Bergman.