No Strings Attached [2011]

Lots of dressing/undressing in this film.

My first reaction upon seeing the movie poster for the first time on the subway platform was an audible “What the fuck?!” The cover looks like a parody of a bad romance comedy, with a bare legged Natalie Portman smiling plasticly as she stands next to a bed on which sits a chipper-looking Ashton Kutcher, nearly as tall as his standing co-star while sitting, both of them cheerfully getting dressed. Well, you can’t judge a film by its cover (the darkly stellar Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead springs to mind), and in the case of No Strings Attached, this lighthearted rom-com, with its strong cast and interesting characters, is good for a few laughs, while avoiding the common pitfalls of this genre–well, some, at least.

The ever adorable Natalie Portman.

Portman plays Emma, a med school student well into her residency who has neither time for nor interest in a boyfriend. Early in the film she shows up in red full-body long underwear to a pajama party at which the other females are dressed in little more than bras and boy shorts, “whore” embazoned on the ass of the host of the party. She runs into Kutcher’s Adam, a likeable TV crew member and ladies’ man, by chance, who wields an oversize foam finger which he points in her direction. They haven’t met since early high school, when the two seem to have had a brief liaison, but they somehow start in again after all these years, and the title should give you a hint as to the general progression of things. Of course the couple’s NSA policy is doomed to fail–Adam, a die-hard romantic, is rarely without a girlfriend and isn’t content merely with mating rituals, while Emma is commitment-phobic and in general disgusted by romantic hogwash. Could Emma prove girlfriend material? Will Adam be able to break through her icy barrier and persuade her to give love a try? Ummmm, what the f*ck am I watching?

Please don't make that face. Maybe I take it back.

Elizabeth Meriwether’s script is strong and, in parts, hilarious. I found all her characters likeable, from Ludacris’ sarcastic but sensitive bartender, Wallace, to Kevin Cline’s Alvin, Adam’s father and washed up sitcom star content to do drugs, fuck younger women and shout his signature “Great Scott!” (incidentally the name of the long-finished sitcom in which he starred, as well as its famous epithet) whenever he leaves a room. The supporting characters are colorful and well fleshed-out, while Kutcher’s Adam is delightful. Kutcher’s height and chiseled good looks have gotten him far, but he proves he can act in NSA, at least as a perpetually positive, easy-going former frat boy-type. Portman’s performance as Emma is less impressive, if perhaps because her character is a bit one dimensional or too typified. We understand that Emma’s sole focus is on becoming a doctor, but her steeliness doesn’t seem to really derive from anywhere relevant, beside basic family issues, and the film doesn’t portray her as particularly passionate about practicing medicine. While the dialog is well-written and most scenes cut nicely just as they start getting mushy or right after a satisfying one-liner, Meriwether’s plot is a bit suspect. Early chronological tricks are unnecessary and confusing, and seem out of place as 90% of the film is a straight narrative. The running time, at 108 min, could have been cut down as well, as some later scenes are peripheral or start to drag.

Perhaps it wasn't as good for her..?

Though flawed and sometimes cheesy or incongruent, No Strings Attached is far more palatable, humorous and simply better than the majority of rom-coms that I’ve actually finished, which I could probably count on one hand. While a genre that I shy away from, the romantic comedy, when well done, can be hilarious and emotionally satisfying for both women and men. Thanks to solid performances and enough laughs, No Strings Attached may be one such example, while not being a terrible film either.

Logan’s Rating: 6/10

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