It’s one of those films I hate to review because I don’t want my review to be as generic as the genre I’m reviewing. Fortunately No Strings Attached has enough that stands out where I have something to discuss, but this film offers little in the way of surprises, at least none that will have audiences hailing it as anything more than just another mild crowd pleaser.
Gerwig is a performer that arrives like a breath of fresh air
As such, I can’t help but wonder what it was that had him thinking this should be his next project. What would motivate the director of such classic comedies as Stripes and Ghost Busters to direct a rather benign rom-com dusted with the same potty humor that infects most R-rated comedies since Judd Apatow made such jokes part of the mainstream?
No Strings Attached plays out exactly as you would think. Kutcher and Portman play Adam and Emma, two people that have been bumping into one another for the past 15 years but until now have never done anything more than talk. Suddenly, after one night together turns into a second night together, Emma suggests they make an attempt at becoming friends with benefits. Being a male of prurient mind and body, Adam agrees. But, as life tells us, such arrangements don’t often work and in order for this to be a movie it’s not going to work this time either.
The humor here is pretty much your standard attempt at R-rated teenage raunch, humor that has pretty much lost my interest as it has become old hat at this point. It’s now a matter of figuring out new ways to reference male and female genitalia and the variety of activities that can be done with them. Who would’ve ever thought face-value jokes, such as when Ludacris jokes about �busting a nut�, would become the cliched norm?
I will admit there is one great scene where Portman pulls something of a Snooki moment and drunkenly asks a cabbie to take her to �Adam’s house.� When asked where that is she simply replies, �Where Adam lives.� I laughed.
The film’s greatest success is in screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether managing to tell a story everyone in the theater knows how it’s going to turn out and doing it with a modicum of reality. Of course, certain situations arise that make it easier for our two protagonists to come together or move apart, but the fact there were moments where I thought the narrative may actually go somewhere other than the obvious is worthy of mention.
Starring two-time Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman and Nikon camera huckster Ashton Kutcher, No Strings Attached is director Ivan Reitman’s first film since 2006’s My Super Ex-Girlfriend
On the opposite side, the script rarely interjects anything all that new onto the landscape and the characters are a little bit thin. For example, Portman’s character is never all that accessible as her motivations and reasons for her unwillingness to commit are never fully fleshed out. There’s an attempt to explain things, but it’s not enough to fully connect with the character or deliver an ending as powerful as I’m sure Reitman hoped.
There is room for some high praise for one of the film’s performances, and it doesn’t belong to Kutcher or Portman, though it’s always fun when Portman let’s loose a little bit (her Saturday Night Live rap proved that). Instead, Greta Gerwig is the most likable face among the crowd and she’s a star that’s on the rise. After getting plenty of plaudits for her performance in Greenberg last year she’ll next star opposite Russell Brand in the Arthur remake later this year and will also be seen, in what I assume will be a piece of perfecting casting, in Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. There aren’t many actresses like her working right now and if she chooses wisely she could be huge over the next couple of years.
Elsewhere the film features small roles for Kevin Kline as Adam’s one-time TV star, Purple Drank-sipping father, while Lake Bell gets a rather thankless role as does Cary Elwes and Olivia Thirlby (Juno). Ludacris and Mindy Kaling then serve as characters responsible for delivering a few decent one-liners as well as ensure this isn’t an entirely white-washed comedy.
Overall there’s nothing wrong with No Strings Attached just as much as there isn’t anything right about it. The humor isn’t high concept as you could cull most of it from an afternoon at a local high school or frat party. The romantic narrative is a foregone conclusion and very little else is brought to the picture. The fact the screenplay does offer a dose of realism makes it a bit more upsetting the film couldn’t have been better in hopes others would emulate this kind of a film rather than always rely on the common misunderstanding to throw romantic comedy narratives for a loop.