A film review by Craig J. Koban January 25, 2011
NO STRINGS ATTACHED
2011, R, 105 mins.
2011, R, 105 mins.
Emma: Natalie Portman / Adam: Ashton Kutcher / Dr. Metzner: Cary
Elwes / Alvin: Kevin Kline / Patrice: Greta Gerwig / Lucy:
Lake Bell / Vanessa: Ophelia Lovibond / Kate: Olivia
Thirlby / Wallace: Chris Bridges / Eli: Jake Johnson
Natalie Portman will win
an Oscar in a month for her searing, career high performance in BLACK
SWAN, which makes her decision to star in mushy-gushy romcom all
the more inexplicable. Even more peculiar is her own comments on the genre
itself, or perhaps should I say her condemnation of it. In a recent interview she stated that in romcoms “The
girls are always in fashion, and it’s always about the clothes. They always want to get married at the end.
There’s some kind of makeover scene.
That stuff offends me.”
Clearly, receiving a mighty
high pay check was not as offensive to Portman as the prospect of
appearing in the new Ivan Reitman romcom, NO STRINGS ATTACHED, which
certainly, at face value, stridently adheres to the types of genre
conventions that the actress claims she loathes.
The film –only Reitman’s third behind the director’s chair
since 2001 – at least tries to pull a bit of bait and switch with the
typical gender roles that occupy these types of films:
NO STRINGS ATTACHED shows a woman as an empowered, career-minded,
and staunchly independent figure that’s fine on her own and the
man is the one that is more emotionally fragile and sentimental and yearns
for a loving relationship. I remember writing in my review of last year’s January
romcom LEAP YEAR how I yearned for a
strong willed female protagonist in one of these films to be a person that
just does not allow herself into a relationship because “the right
man” is all that she needs to complete herself as a person; the man
should have to convince her of the prospect.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED thankfully
does not make its main female role one of condescending and backward
minded stereotype like, say, just about every recent Katherine Heigl
romcom. I also
appreciate the fact that the male here suitor really has to work at persuading
the woman that love is a noble endeavor for both to be on (how many
romcoms have we seen where the women just simplistically and easily falls
head over heels for the men that enter their lives?). Yet, NO STRINGS ATTACHED is not nearly as progressive, edgy,
and radical with skewing the formulas and routines of the genre as it
thinks it is; by the time the story wraps up to an unavoidably tidy,
happy, and predictable conclusion, you are left feeling that the film is
just as annoyingly maudlin and manipulative as any other example of the
The film's central premise bares a
striking resemblance to LOVE AND
OTHER DRUGS: Can two men and women be sex buddies without truly
becoming romantically attached?
main difference with Edward Zwick’s film is that it dealt with this
theme and characters contained within with much more raw honesty and
integrity. NO STRINGS
begins several years in the past when two young teenagers hook up at camp
that ends on a highly awkward point when the boy sheepishly asks if he
has permission to violate the girl (it’s more crude than funny) and then
we are transported forward several years when the boy, Adam (Ashton Kutcher)
reacquaints himself with the girl, Emma (Natalie Portman) at a college
party. Adam is a struggling
TV-writer and producer of a GLEE/HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL-esque show and Emma
is an aspiring doctor working her way through her residency.
Even after several meet-cutes between the pair through different
time periods, they never officially hit it off and become a couple.
Things change when Adam
learns, to his obvious dismay and horror, that his very famous celebrity
father (Kevin Kline, a welcoming sight in any comedy) has shacked up with
one of his very recent girlfriends. Adam
decides to get hammered and in the process he decides to call all of the
girls on his iPhone in hopes of getting laid.
Adam eventually wakes up the next morning naked and in a strange
apartment that, yup, Emma happens to be living in.
He cannot remember anything that transpired the night before, and
after much teasing by Emma and her roommates, she convinces him that he
did not get lucky with any of them. However,
within a few short minutes, Emma and Adam do have sex during an
instance when their respective guards are down.
The two then decide to form a
sex pact: they will have intercourse as often as possible and anytime during the
day just as long as they do not become emotionally invested in the
other...so...no strings attached. So, no
post-sex cuddling or talking, no morning after breakfast, no dating, nadda;
just a lot of fornication. The
sex between them is, of course, amazing, but, wouldn’t you know it, the
likeable and puppy-dog eyed Adam is so nice and so sincere and so
hopelessly romantic that he begins to have feelings for Emma, which she
does not immediately reciprocate. Emma
is a hostile anti-relationship/love figure in every way, to the point where
Adam’s attempts to woe her begin to turn her off.
They pair mutually separate and flirt with the idea of seeing other
people, which if you ever watch any romcom in the past, means that the
other potential suitors will either be twisted assholes or neurotic
dweebs. I don’t think
it’s a spoiler to hint that Emma begins to re-think her stance on being
romantically close to Adam and chooses to actively get him back…before
she loses him forever.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED does
benefit from having appealing and attractive lead actors in Portman and
Kutcher and they do exhibit the requisite chemistry to allow
viewers to yearn them to be together (which is a basic requirement of the
genre). Kutcher is a
performer that does not have considerable range, but he can play soft
spoken, amiable, and earnest roles like Adam quite adequately, and one of
the nice things about the film is that the man is presented as fairly well
adjusted, honest, and genuine person. Portman
is essentially in pure coast mode here (especially considering her last
film), but she is a radiant enough of a presence and maintains a carefree
and natural liveliness that makes Emma winning despite her
flaws. NO STRINGS
ATTACHED achieves the romcom status quo for at least giving us two leads
that we easily invest in and grow fond of.
Yet, Emma and Adam are not
completely compelling as characters and there is not much in the script in
the way explaining why these two fall in love with one another outside of
a physical attraction. They
are hot and uniformly good in the sack, but what common threads do they
really have? The film also feels
like it's trying really hard to be a bawdy, hard-R rated, Judd Apatow-mannered
sex comedy, but all of the f-bombs uttered and lewd banter comes off more
like artificial punctuation marks than evoking the reality of how young
people speak and act. Furthermore,
for a film that tries to be dirty and push the envelope, NO STRINGS
ATTACHED takes the road-most-traveled approach and plays things way too
safe as it transgresses into predictably warm hearted and teeth-gratingly
sentimental finale, during which Kutcher utters a line to Portman that is
in the upper echelon of wincing groan-inducers: “I’m warning you…if you come
any closer…I may never let you go.”
The film also does an
incredible job of squandering its terrific supporting cast: Kevin Kline
can play irreverent hedonists to dry effect in his sleep, but he’s not
really given much to do here. And
then there is the feisty and lovely Olivia Thirlby (playing Portman’s
sister) that is wasted in a role that barely registers.
Just look at Greta Gerwig too, who portrays Emma’s roommate and
fellow hospital intern that is good at deadpanning hilarious quips, but for
an actress that was so exultantly precise and authentic in portraying a
mid-20’s woman in crisis in last year’s GREENBERG,
her role here by comparison feels hopelessly beneath her talents.
NO STRINGS ATTACHED tries to traverse between debauchery and romance, which is a tricky task, but I just wished that the film took more chances with the underlining material and became more subversively intriguing and funny. Reitman’s film is more or less posing as something it’s truly not: it yearns to be a button-pushing and seditious dissection of romcom protocols, but its story ends with such a clunking and preordained familiarity: Emma and Adam become soul mates not because of some ethereal and unbreakable bond between the pair, but essentially because the mechanizations of the plot require them to be soul mates to appease audiences. Considering Portman’s comments that I used to preface this review, I left the theatre wondering how did this script did not offend her.