As with most romantic comedies, I wasn't expecting much from No Strings Attached. Even legendary director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes) behind the camera couldn't get me excited, no doubt because of the quality (ahem) of the films he's directed in the last ten years. And while it still wasn't what I would call "a great movie," this film surprised me with its charming story and genuine chemistry between the lead actors.
No Strings Attached
Director: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline
While many recent rom-coms appear horrifically contrived, terribly acted (I'm looking at you, Heigl), and poorly plotted, this one seems to have a bit of zest behind it. That zest comes courtesy of the writer, Elizabeth Meriwether. One of four members of "The Fempire" - essentially a female screenwriting club, featuring the likes of Diablo Cody - Meriwether hits the expected beats with No Strings Attached, but also manages to imbue the film with a bit of realism that goes a long way. For me, it was reminiscent of the Drew Barrymore/Justin Long film Going the Distance in that regard: for the most part, the characters acted like real people instead of characters in a movie.
The relationship between Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) seemed believable, and though for the majority of the movie the characters basically joked and messed around, there were also a few emotional scenes (near the end, of course) that I thought were really effective and even bordered on touching. Kutcher wasn't quite the insufferable jackass he is in most of his films, and Natalie Portman (who's about to have a heck of a year if this Oscar thing pans out for her) did some good work as a character who tries her hardest to stay emotionally detached. Her arc is incredibly formulaic, but her considerable talent makes it easy to digest.
The stars shine thanks to a supporting cast filled with stock characters, including a scandalous father (Kevin Kline), the vulgar best friends (Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling for Portman, Jake M. Johnson and Chris "Ludacris" Bridges for Kutcher), and the wise-beyond her years sister (Olivia Thirlby). The dynamics between these characters managed to feel fairly honest, but if you're one of those strange people who decides to see R-rated movies even though you don't like foul language, you may want to sit this one out: nearly every interaction with either gender of "best friend" is crude on an Apatow level - mostly to amusing effect.
Generally, the film makes us feel as if this story has been told before, and it will definitely be told again quite soon in the upcoming Justin Timberlake/Mila Kunis movie Friends with Benefits, a title to which No Strings Attached once laid claim. It's a perfectly fine romantic comedy that doesn't reach "classic" status, but there are enough redeeming qualities to put it slightly above average on the scale and make it a tolerable viewing experience. Until next time...
[I was a bit bothered by the idea presented in the film that essentially Natalie Portman's character is "wrong" and the entire movie is about her being convinced to change, but, to be perfectly honest, I'm getting ready to leave for Sundance and don't have time to explore this concept further right now.]