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Steven’s Rating: 3.5/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 4.2/10
(2 reviews total)
No doubt about it folks, we are in the age of the R-rated sex comedy. This explosive trend among movies stems from filmmakers and producers’ never-ending pursuit of making the rare comedy that costs little but rakes in obscene amounts of money. No Strings Attached fits the exact profile of a film quite literally strung together with the hopes of getting its cup under the R-rated sex comedy tap and catching a few precious drops of what has been comedy gold the last five years. And if 2011′s first romantic comedy is any indication, that cup hath runneth dry.
Natalie Portman, the darling of Hollywood right now coming off her Golden Globe (and what will likely be an Oscar) win for Black Swan and the somehow always-popular Ashton Kutcher co-star in what amounts to “Friends with Benefits 101,” or a very rudimentary telling of how two people come to and work through a decision to use each other strictly for sex. Although no movie has highlighted this story line so explicitly, most young people are aware of the concept, yet the film takes us through the motions as if we’re all 50-something and aren’t aware such progressive sexual arrangements exist.
That’s why veteran director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) proves immediately to be out of place. He appears to have been handed Elizabeth Meriwether’s script and told “this is what’s popular now, go do it.” Meriwether certainly didn’t go out of her way to divert from formula as “No Strings” overflows with plot-subservient supporting characters (the roommates and friends of our “not lovers”) and injections of foul-mouthed humor, but a more modern comedy director wouldn’t have exposed those ploys as brutally as Reitman does.
The film takes us from the beginning of Adam and Emma’s acquaintanceship (they were never really friends before the sex happened), which started at a summer camp when Adam attempted to mope about his parents’ divorce to Emma in hopes of a sympathy hook up. Deciding to be frank, he asks to finger her. This is the movie’s first attempt at slapping in “modern” and “R-rated” sex jokes. Maybe that would’ve been funny in 2005, but our over-exposure to dirty dialogue in film has — and rightfully so — desensitized us to laughing at, for example, any time the word “penis” or a variation on “penis” gets tossed into a movie script as “No Strings” so often does. In fact, by comparison to similar comedies, the movie hardly warrants an R rating.
As romantic comedy fans know, however, great chemistry in the leads can help remedy even the worst of situations. To some degree, Portman and Kutcher have something that works, but Adam and Emma are so poorly set up that it slightly undermines Kutcher’s sweet and surprisingly sympathy-worthy performance and Portman’s excellent ability to reveal all her characters’ inner thoughts and feelings. When they first have sex, it should in theory be an enormous release of sexual tension for the audience, but it feels as if it just happens for the sake of there being a movie. That’s the real problem with No Strings Attached: as genuine as the characters can feel at times, they all ultimately feel like pawns of or cogs in a formula to deliver us a story. A good film executes like a real-life or at least intriguing situation that the audience gets to peek in on.
So like any film with an absurd amount of pieces, the characters surrounding Adam and Emma either insignificant to us or we like them but their screen time is completely short-changed. Meriwether would have been better served to cut down on the amount of friends and roommates and relatives and add dimension to the better of the bunch. Among the list of those who deserved more attention are Greta Gerwig as one of Emma’s roommates, Lake Bell as one of the assistant producers on the “Glee”-type TV show Adam works for and SNLer Abby Elliot as a bartender who does weird impersonations. Unfortunately, the most intriguing supporting role, belonging to Kevin Kline as Adam’s former TV star dad who starts seeing his ex-girlfriend and loves drugs, falls flat.
The lack of laughs and botched attempts at “hip” jokes, however, are the root of the film’s problems. After Emma gets drunk on tequila shots one night after she and Adam have decided to sleep with other people, she goes to Adam’s place and finds him with two other girls whom she proceeds yell at, calling them “pumpkins” for absolutely no reason. It plays like a bad cut of improv, but Reitman seems to have blind faith that that’s what “comedy” is these days.
You’d really like to give credit to Portman, Kutcher and many of the other actors who attempted to build likable characters despite how processed they come across in the story itself, but No Strings Attached never relents in its dependency on formula. We all know how a romantic comedy will end (except 2006′s The Break-Up), but when you know how it will start and middle, that’s busting the illusion that fans of the genre pay good money to be fooled by. Sadly, the fact that there’s no disguising the film’s attempt to jump on the sex comedy bandwagon undermines nearly everything, perhaps even the bandwagon itself.
No Strings Attached
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Elizabeth Meriwether, Michael Samonek
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell
Other Player Affinity Reviews
Dinah thought: ” Not another date movie … well actually this one is not half bad. No Strings Attached benefits from the genial and endearing nature of its leads Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. It attempts to be daring, portraying the female as the sex-crazed commitment challenged one rather than the male. The believability factor is thrown out the window as soon as you realize a normal person doing an 80-hour-a-week residency program would not have time to do anything but sleep. Harder still to believe is the subplot involving Adam’s ex girlfriend sleeping with his father. All of this was meant to be funny, but it didn’t garner many laughs. Still, the story remains true to convention, complete with a happy ending vignette for the leads and the supporting cast of characters. You’ll walk out satisfied, temporarily forgetting you’ve seen the same story a thousand times before.” Rating: 5/10
Player Affinity Composite Rating: 4.2/10