1/24/11

No Strings Attached (MOVIE REVIEW) ! ! !


You can sit through most romantic comedies and go down a mental checklist clicking off the rom com clich├ęs - and that can easily be done with No Strings Attached, starring Natalie Portman (hot off her critically acclaimed performance in Black Swan) and Ashton Kutcher (a veteran of the genre). Let's see, we've got a 'meet cute' between two obviously meant to be together characters who will take anywhere between an hour and a half and two hours of screen time to figure out they're destined to be a couple. Check. Funny sidekicks/best friends who spout snappy one-liners? No Strings Attached has a few of them who qualify, so check this one off your list. Assorted supporting characters who try to get between the two main characters? Check. An ending that's practically chiseled in stone as a must-have for a romantic comedy - check, check, and triple check.

No Strings Attached has all of those rom com conventions and more. But if you're going to sit through a romantic comedy, isn't it assumed that's what you're getting yourself into? Don't we go to rom coms to escape from reality and watch an improbable love story play out with attractive people? Yes, we do, and that's what you get from No Strings Attached. No Strings Attached is exactly what we expect it to be and for fans of the genre, that may well be enough reason to check it out in theaters.
The Story
Emma (Portman) and Adam (Kutcher) first meet as young teens at summer camp. He asks if he can do something totally inappropriate and she says no. But then he opens up and tells her his famous TV star dad is getting a divorce from his mom, and Emma attempts to comfort him by patting him on the back. Emma's got a real problem with hugging and making a connection with the opposite sex, and even that small act of patting Adam pushes her out of her comfort zone.

Fast forward to their college years and the two meet up again at a frat party. Adam's drunk, Emma's not so much, and she invites him to this 'thing' she's going to the next day. Adam says yes and shows up in a bright yellow hoodie to what turns out to be Emma's father's funeral. Despite the fact he's completely out of the loop on where their first date was going to take place, he makes the most of it and still wants to see her after the funeral's over. But she sends him off with a warning that he'd be better off if they were to end things before they actually started.


A year or so later, they randomly run into each other at an outdoor market. Adam's with his girl friend who's very much the opposite of Emma. Emma's now in medical school studying to be a doctor, and Adam's a production assistant on a Glee clone. They chat and go their separate ways once again.

Flash forward yet again (and yes, all this flashing gets a little tedious) and Adam's just found out from his dad (Kevin Kline) that his ex-girlfriend (the hugger he was with the last time he caught up with Emma) has moved on and moved in with dear old dad. Adam, of course, doesn't handle this news well and decides to call every female in his contact list until he can find someone who will sleep with him. Flash forward to the next morning, and Adam wakes up on an unfamiliar couch, naked with a well-placed hand towel over his private parts, and staring at a woman he's never seen before in his life.



After much teasing and a few moments of near panic on Adam's part, it turns out the unfamiliar woman he wakes up looking at is Emma's roommate, Shira (Mindy Kaling). So, after figuring out how he got there and where his pants are, Emma and Adam have a quickie which turns out to be the beginning of a purely sexual, no strings attached relationship. They agree to have sex whenever and wherever either one wants it, but under no circumstances will there be any cuddling, shared breakfasts, lengthy discussions about feelings, jealousy over dating others, etc, etc. etc.

From the very start of this 'it's just sex' relationship (I'd use the film's alternate title but I'm forced to keep this review PG rated), it's obvious Adam wants more. But Emma's not about to bend to his wishes. She's way too busy, and even if time permitted her to have a boyfriend, she's simply not the sort of woman who wants to get romantic. Moonlight and roses aren't her thing.

Even after agreeing to all the rules, Adam ultimately wants more. He pushes for a real relationship, and she pushes him away. He's ready to settle down and be in love and that's way more than Emma wants to deal with. No strings attached is a rule Emma's unwilling to break, but if she doesn't, then Adam's ready to detach himself from Emma's life completely...
The Acting
Natalie Portman's surprisingly good at comedy, and she's an absolute breath of fresh air as a newbie to the romantic comedy genre. What Portman pulls off here, portraying a realistic adult woman who has no desire to be involved in a relationship, is spot on. Portman has the skill to blend the character's many weird quirks while keeping it real, making Emma genuinely believable.

No Strings Attached marks one of Kutcher's better performances, and I think a lot of the credit for that goes to Portman. The unlikely pair feel natural together on screen, and Kutcher not only looks the part of the romantic leading man, but also isn't afraid of looking like a fool which he has to do often in No Strings Attached.

Kevin Kline shows up now and then as Kutcher's father, a popular actor best known for declaring "Great Scott!" - a running joke throughout the film that actually never gets old. Jake Johnson and Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges play Kutcher's best friends and although neither part is particularly well written, Johnson and Bridges are both charming enough to get by as the guys who try and offer support to their buddy but who have no real idea how to handle a woman like Portman's Emma. Completing Kutcher's crew is Lake Bell as one of the people he reports to on the set of the Glee-like show. Bell nails the part of a hyperactive neurotic woman who can't stop talking and who has a major crush on her co-worker.

The Bottom Line
R-rated but due to language and subject matter not nudity, No Strings Attached marks the first romantic comedy for director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) and the first feature film from screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether. Reitman's direction is fine, but Meriwether's script would have benefited from some tweaking. You can see where the story is going way before it gets there, and the one-liners Meriwether comes up with just don't connect and provide the punch they need to. Given the fact it was going for an R-rating all along, the jokes could have been pushed further and elevated more toward an adult audience rather than teen. The writing's a little too careful and there's a feeling of restraint in some of the more intimate scenes that shouldn't be there.

However, the pleasant surprise of No Strings Attached is the terrific chemistry between Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. The dialogue's not particularly sharp and the jokes fall flat more often than not, yet Portman and Kutcher do somehow manage to make No Strings Attached into a decent - although not in the least bit ground-breaking - romantic comedy.


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