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No Strings Attached (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 27


Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jake Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Guy Brandum, Talia Balsam, Ophelia Lovibond, Cary Elwes, Abby Elliott, Vedette Lim, Ben Lawson, Jennifer Irwin, Adhir Kalyan and Brian Dierker.

Screenplay by Elizabeth Meriwether.

Directed by Ivan Reitman.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 110 minutes. Rated R.

No Strings Attached is the second step in making Natalie Portman the hardest working woman in show business. After a couple of years laying low out of the limelight in roles in the smallish likes of New York I Love You, Brothers and The Other Woman, Portman currently has six (count ‘em!) features due to land in theaters in the space of less than a year – and that isn’t even counting her appearance as herself in Joaquin Phoenix’s “documentary” I’m Still Here.

Strictly from a career standpoint, No Strings Attached is actually a smart counterpoint to the dark operatic passions of Black Swan. After all, after that arty and disturbing (but very good) melodrama, what could be more mainstream than a sweet and formulaic romantic comedy?

It’s a nice added benefit that No Strings Attached is actually a better-than-average formulaic romantic comedy. It is not a perfect film or necessary experience by any means, but in an era where most rom coms are of the dubious quality of Did You Hear About the Morgans?, The Back-Up Plan, You Again, What About Steve?, Valentine’s Day or anything with Matthew McConaughey, this film seems like a treasure just because it is a pleasant enough diversion.

And perhaps the basic premise of No Strings Attached – about a couple who is in a strictly sexual relationship when love sneaks in to complicate things – is rather similar to that of last fall’s Love and Other Drugs, though No Strings Attached does not veer into darker melodrama in later scenes like that film did. Well, who really ever expected a romantic comedy to be unique? The story has been done many times before and will be again – in fact, doesn’t the upcoming Mila Kunis/Justin Timberlake film Friends with Benefits also seem to be retelling this very same story?

Emma and Adam had met years ago in summer camp and had a very awkward flirtatious encounter. Years later, they run into each other at a University of Michigan frat party, and she ends up bringing him as her date the next day to her father’s funeral.

Then, finally in the present day (at least as far as the film is concerned), they run into each other at a farmers’ market. They are still fighting their mutual attraction, but when he finds out that his former sitcom-star dad (Kevin Kline) has hooked up with his ex-girlfriend, Adam goes drinking with his buddies and texts while drunk. He wakes up the next morning in her apartment naked and not sure how he got there – or what happened. Turns out they hadn’t slept together, but they do before he leaves that morning.

She makes an offer – she has no time for a relationship, but they should have strings-free sex anytime either wants it. The only rules were no dating, no jealousy, no endless phone calls and most of all, no falling in love. Being a man, of course he jumps at the chance.

However, if you have ever seen a movie like this, you know that this kind of relationship will never work out without one of them wanting more. Refreshingly, he is the one who wants something a bit more personal than zipless fucking. But will they be able to downshift from sex into dating?

No Strings Attached is something of a return to form for its director, the respected comic mind Ivan Reitman, who has recently been struggling in the likes of My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Evolution. Of course, it is nowhere as good as some of Reitman’s classics, such as Ghost Busters, Dave or Stripes. It also isn’t as good as the three films made in recent years by his son Jason – Thank You for Not Smoking, Juno and Up in the Air. However, this is the most engaging film that Ivan has made since Dave in 1993.

It also shows, finally, that when given the correct material (which he almost never is), Ashton Kutcher is a perfectly serviceable leading man. In fact, he and Portman actually have terrific chemistry together.

No Strings Attached also has an extremely deep cast of supporting actors – including the wonderful Greta Gerwig (from Greenberg) as her best friend, Olivia Thirlby as her little sister, Jake Johnson and rapper Ludacris as his best friends and terrific TV actress Lake Bell as a co-worker with a crush on Kutcher’s character. Kline is slightly left out to dry in his role – as Kutcher’s lecherous dad – but even though he is way too talented to play such an obtuse character, he does it with panache.

No Strings Attached is not reinventing the art form and does have more than its share of awkward moments. However, credit where it is due, No Strings Attached was much better than I would have expected.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2011 All rights reserved. Posted: February 10, 2011.

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