Tuesday, February 1, 2011
TEFB REVIEW: NO STRINGS ATTACHED
Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Greta Gerwig
I'm a sucker for a decent Hollywood rom-com. Even predictable rom-coms at that. So when No Strings Attached hit theaters, I was all in. Directed by Ivan Reitman, the film is certainly predictable -- you know exactly where it's headed right from the start. But with Elizabeth Meriwether's clever and charming script, punctuated by funny little moments, audiences shouldn't mind going along for the ride anyway.
The basic premise of No Strings Attached asks the question: Does the "friends with benefits" arrangement really work? Or does someone always end up falling in love and getting hurt? That's the dilemma facing Adam and Emma, who run into each other every five to 10 years or so. They first meet at Camp Weehawken as teenagers and again at a frat party in college. Now in their late-20s, Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is an assistant on a Glee-like TV show, and Emma (Natalie Portman) is a new doctor at the local hospital. When they run into each other for the first time in years, she invites him to "this thing" (i.e. her dad's funeral) and he goes and eventually scores her cell phone number. A year later, he calls her in a drunken stuper and winds up naked on the couch at her place.
Although he's really looking for his next girlfriend, she's just looking for someone to sleep with. They agree to be 'sex friends.' No cuddling or spooning, no morning-after breakfasts, no nicknames for body parts. No dating, just screwing. Much like the gender role reversal in Love & Other Drugs, where Anne Hathaway’s character is the one who insists on keeping things breezy and commitment-free, Portman's character -- not Kutcher's -- is the one avoiding a serious relationship.
Of course, it's not long before Adam starts falling for Emma and, even though she would rather deny it, she's falling for him too.
Predictability aside, the movie still works. There are great performances, particularly from the supporting cast which includes Kevin Kline as Adam's father -- a former TV star with compromised values -- and Ludacris and Jake Johnson as Adam's buddies. Scenes with Emma’s roommates, played by Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling and Guy Branum, are some of the funniest in the movie, and Kutcher plays the role of charming and cute Adam effortlessly.
Portman isn't the obvious choice to play Emma, a role typically given to other rom-com staples like Hathaway or Katherine Heigel or even Jennifer Aniston. This movie seems almost beneath her acting abilities, but she's believable playing the too-serious-for-a- serious-relationship-but-horny Emma. Surely this role was a refreshing change from the obsessive ballerina she portrays in Black Swan, for which she will likely grab an Oscar.
The chemistry between Kutcher and Portman is also believable, but their spontaneous romps in the closet, handicapped bathrooms and cars -- just to name a few places -- are just not hot or raunchy enough, especially for an R-rating. Some critics have noted that this is a PG-13 rated film masquerading as a R. They're right.
Despite its limitations and predictability, No Strings Attached is pleasant and entertaining. I admit, the movie really had me at first note ... literally. Within seconds, Color Me Badd's catchy 1991 hit "I Wanna Sex You Up" emanated from the screen. Yes, I'm a sucker for rom-coms. And, apparently, cheesy 90s R&B songs too.