Of course, her almost inhuman good looks—she’s borderline cartoonish in her wide-eyed, tiny-bodied appearance—may also have something to do with her appeal. Last year, Kunis, now 28, dramatically boosted magazine sales when she graced a glossy's cover, according to WWD. (Interestingly, actual man-child Justin Bieber was cover kryptonite.) Earlier this year, she became the new face of Dior. And perhaps equally telling, the same smart, menschy guys who once gushed about Natalie Portman have all but stopped buzzing about the new mom, replacing her with Kunis. (Don’t tell Nina Sayers!)
In his GQ cover story on Kunis last year, David Marchese ended the interview by, yes, asking her out. (She said no.) As for why men are drawn to her, he says, “She just doesn’t seem like a pushover. She seems like she wouldn’t take any guff, or that she would give as much as she would take.”
As it were, much of the guff Kunis gives in her roles as a Man-Up Dream Girl revolves around teasing her love interests for being girls—which, to be sure, feminists might protest. In Forgetting Sarah Marshall, when Segel’s character shows up at the Hawaii resort where she works with a broken heart and no place to stay, she hooks him up with a room, then teases him later for sobbing like a woman. When they go on a hike and he’s afraid to follow her lead and jump off a cliff into the ocean, she yells, “I can see your vagina!” (Ironic, since he goes full-frontal earlier in the movie.) In the end, though, she helps him get out of his own way and become the man he wants to be.
In Friends With Benefits, as her and Timberlake’s characters navigate their pals-who-sleep-together relationship, she both makes herself vulnerable and sets him straight when he disappoints her. And in a strangely familiar scene, when the two go on a hike and Timberlake’s character is afraid to follow her lead and jump a fence to check out the Hollywood sign, she calls him the P word. Once he mans up and, after an argument, attempts to win her over with a grand romantic gesture, they happily enter into what promises to be an adult relationship.
Which brings us to Ted, in which her Man-Up Dream Girl persona becomes something of a caricature, as probably makes sense in a movie starring a computer-generated stuffed animal. Kunis plays a rising public-relations star who, as she told Entertainment Weekly, “knows what she wants out of life and desperately wants her boyfriend to be in her life with her in the same way.”
Wahlberg plays her sweet if clueless car-rental-agent boyfriend, who spends an inordinate amount of time getting high and watching Flash Gordon with Ted, a toy who was brought to life on a childhood wish. Kunis tones down the taunting in this movie, instead simply telling Wahlberg’s character that she needs a man, not a boy. Her character is unrealistically patient and understanding, but her mission remains the same—and her boyfriend ultimately comes around.
After Knocked Up hit theaters in 2007, The New Yorker’s Denby dissected the decade’s slew of movies in which successful, mature women (“strivers”) date ambitionless boys (“slackers”). In his article, he lamented the genre’s implication that “women bring home the bacon, but men bring home the soul.”
Kunis was up for Heigl’s role in Knocked Up, but she didn’t get the part. Perhaps she gave the character too much soul. And she seems unlikely to be cast as the ethereal-muse type—as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl—a role that tends to be blinded by soul. By bringing home bacon and soul, Kunis may just be the role model men have been seeking.