Mark Reviews Movies

NO STRINGS ATTACHED

1 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ivan Reitman

Cast: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig, Kevin Kline, Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Jake Johnson, Mindy Kaling, Cary Elwes

MPAA Rating: R (for sexual content, language and some drug material)

Running Time: 1:50

Release Date: 1/21/11


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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 20, 2011

I can't shake the feeling that each of the romantic leads of No Strings Attached would be better off without the other. She's as eager to define a non-relationship as he is to define the relationship they both protest (too much) does not exist between them. He's a nice guy with a "good heart" (so says everyone), while she has baggage—not the cute kind, either.

It's an unfairly loaded movie in more ways than it can recognize. The premise of their romantic relationship as an unromantic non-relationship, as evoked by the title, is that two people can make dates to rendezvous for sexual encounters without dating while still remaining friends, and whatever argument one wants to make for or against through experience or hypothetical debate is useless. This is, after all, a romantic comedy, try as hard as it might to dash to pieces such a fluffy term suggesting idealistic love.

He is Adam (Ashton Kutcher), a blank slate mixture of frat-boy partier and hopeless romantic with dreams of writing for a television sitcom set in a high school where the students break out into musical numbers (That's the spirit; don't aim too high, sport). She is Emma (Natalie Portman), a straight-laced young woman with dreams of being a doctor. They meet repeatedly over a span of fifteen years, and since she mildly consoles him twice in that time period of sporadic, chance encounters (and really only for that), Adam decides Emma is the One.

Emma probably believes the same about him, because (and really only because) he calls her up for some revenge sex after his current girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond) leaves him for his father Alvin (Kevin Kline), star of a famous sitcom (who has cursed his son by unintentionally encouraging people to shout dad's catchphrase of "Great Scott" every time they find out who he is). They don't have sex after the drunken dialing, but after she uncomfortably puts her arm around him and he thankfully touches her leg, they get down to business, staring into each other's eyes with the fluffy look of idealistic love.

Enter Indecisive Emma, an off-putting variation of Emma who is gung-ho to be unhappy and necessary, in the grandly obnoxious genre tradition, to keep the two of them apart. Her logic is that she becomes a warped, evil version of herself when she's in a relationship and wants to avoid the—in her mind—inevitable heartbreak that will come when Adam realizes this.

Instead, she becomes, in the screenplay by Elizabeth Meriwether, a warped, evil version of herself that plays with the feelings of poor, old, indefinably bland Adam, texting and calling him at all hours of the day and night, acting like they're in a relationship but saying they're not. Adam could grow a pair, but he's just too boringly, indescribably nice to slam on the brakes.

There is, naturally, a reason for their respective behavior. Adam comes from a broken home and is just so darn sensitive, and Emma, her mother (Talia Balsam) theorizes just in time for her big, revelatory shift toward a false resolution, is simply in the habit of trying to stay strong for her family after her father's death. That scene plays far more manipulatively than it sounds.

Surrounding these two is a cast of paper-thin supporters. Emma has two female roommates (Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling), who are only there so Emma can realize she's miserably alone, and a gay roommate (Guy Branum) the movie forgets about until it can make a joke about the fact he's gay. The other women do set up the movie's best joke, involving a mix CD Adam burns to celebrate and console them during their shared menstrual cycles (It's in the song titles, not the setup). Adam's buddies fare a bit better: Wallace (Chris "Ludacris" Bridges) points out the obvious, and Eli (Jake Johnson) introduces himself as though he's pitching a sitcom about his "two, gay dads."

No Strings Attached starts down an intriguing path in its extended epilogue that teases at the prospect of an unfulfilled (or, as it would be called, a happy) end for Adam and Emma's never-burgeoning non-but-it-actually-is-a-relationship, until a contrived phone call and hospital visit have to ruin it for them. Then again, this is a movie that ends on a rhetorical question only to answer it mere seconds later with a cheery montage during the credits.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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