No Strings Attached Review - "a pleasant surprise that will warm you up in this cold winter month." Eric Sloss reviews the romantic comedy starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman.
(4 out of 5 stars)
Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher star in No Strings Attached.
I always go into a movie with trepidation when I know that Ashton Kutcher is starring in it. He hasn’t exactly had a sterling record in picking movie roles. “Valentine’s Day” and “Killers” were two of the worst films of the year in 2010. Maybe his luck is changing because “No Strings Attached” is a joy to watch. It is a good role for Kutcher and a nice change of pace for Natalie Portman. She probably needed a break after putting herself through the ringer for “Black Swan”.
This is also a nice comeback for Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”). It is his best movie since “Dave”. Like “Dave”, “No Strings Attached” has a pleasant tone to it throughout. It is not too vulgar (even though it strays into crude territory at times) or too sappy like some romantic comedies can get. It pretty much keeps an even keel.
The first half definitely veers more into the comedy territory of the romantic comedy equation. Adam and Emma start a friendship in summer camp that doesn’t go beyond the camp grounds. They have a couple of meet cute moments years later in college and after college, but nothing ever materialize. They are just acquaintances that have short pleasant conversations whenever they see each other. This changes when Adam gets extremely drunk and passes out in Emma’s apartment. The two begin a relationship where there is no romance allowed and they just get together for sex.
Emma as played by Portman set up these rules so she does not get hurt. She’s a doctor now, but she is still scarred by her father’s death. Emma has always had to be the stoic one in her family and she learned to suppress her emotions. Many people will relate with Emma because she knows how to connect on the physical level, but not the emotional level.
Adam (Kutcher) goes along with this arrangement at first. What guy would turn it down? Adam is a fledgling writer on a “High School Musical” type show. His father (Kevin Kline in a sublime performance) was a former sitcom star who had his own catchphrase. Adam respects his father’s opinion on his career, but doesn’t respect how he has lived his personal life. His father left his mother years before and Adam hasn’t forgotten or gotten over that. This sets up an interesting dynamic where Adam is really looking for love and Emma constantly pushes it away.
Screenwriter Elizabeth Merriwether has a nice feel for how people interact with one another. The scenes with Adam and Emma’s friends just seem real and true. In other words, the dialogue doesn’t have the texture of a sitcom or a crappy romantic comedy. Merriwether gives supporting actors Ludacris (“Crash”), Mindy Kaling (TV’s “The Office”), Greta Gerwig (“Greenberg”) and Jake Johnson (“Get Him to the Greek”) a chance to shine in their own right. A special nod has to go to Lake Bell (“It’s Complicated”) as Lucy. She works with Adam on the TV show and her character is a bit unhinged and loopy. She steals every scene she is in because you just don’t know what she is going to do next. There was also a character that didn’t have any lines and constantly took inappropriate photos with his cell phone. He never failed to crack me up.
The film though rests squarely on Kutcher and Portman. Kutcher has always had an easygoing presence on screen. It truly is hard to dislike him even in his worst films. Here he gives Adam some humanity and heart. As the story progresses, he starts to develop feelings for Emma. It comes to a head when they go on an official date that scares off Emma. You come to expect it in this genre. Sure it is predictable, but everyone loves a good reunion.
The movie wouldn’t work as well if there wasn’t any chemistry between Kutcher and Portman. Luckily their connection is dynamic and palpable. I have always felt that Natalie Portman should do more comedies. As in “Beautiful Girls” and “Garden State”, she just seems so at ease and in her element. A high point for me was when Emma confronts Adam in a drunken state. Most actors overdo these types of scenes by slurring their words or falling over everything. Portman keeps it at the perfect pitch and makes it believable.
The second half moves seamlessly into the swooning romantic part. It is handled with great touch as Adam and Emma sort their feelings out for each other. The ending doesn’t break any new ground, but Reitman and Merriwether do it with panache and style. “No Strings Attached” is a pleasant surprise that will warm you up in this cold winter month.
More about No Strings Attached:
Genre/s: Romance Comedy
Release Date/s: 21 January, 2011 (Showtimes, Tickets)
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Production Company: Handsomecharlie Films, Paramount Pictures, The Montecito Picture Company, Katalyst Films, Spyglass Entertainment
Official Site: Visit the Official Site
Alternate Titles: No Strings