No Strings Attached (2011)
Not up to Ivan Reitman’s standards, definitely up to Ashton Kutcher’s standards.
No Strings Attached is about a guy and a girl who meet when they’re kids, meet again when they’re in college, then meet one more time after they’ve entered the real world and start knocking boots up like jackrabbits. But since the girl’s a workaholic and isn’t up for a relationship or all the emotional hangups that come with, they agree to do the whole friends with benefits thing for an indefinite amount of time. So everything’s going according to plan for a couple weeks, but then Ashton starts falling for her, she’s all like, “Boy, you trippin’,” and thus their whole let’s-use-each-other-for-sex-and-nothing-bad-can-possibly-come-of-it dynamic gets turned upside down in a way that no one saw coming.
Before I get down to fine details of this fine motion picture, let me start by saying that I am in no way shape or form the target audience for this movie. Nothing against chick flicks because I like to think that I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to the stuff I watch and I’d gladly stand up for About a Boy or Say Anything any day of the week, but what I am against are carbon copy chick flicks.
If you’ve seen the trailer, if you read that synopsis up there, you don’t need me to tell you how this movie plays out from start to finish. You know it already because you’ve seen it/heard it/lived it and it’s simply been beaten to death. The only difference here is that instead of beating around the bush, the writers have made the friends with benefits aspect the driving force of the story. Sounds edgier in theory, but believe you me, it’s about as edgy as a spoon in practice and it adds nothing to a formula that’s already been worn down to the nub.
Sure, the characters have new names and new jobs and all that good stuff, but they’re essentially going through all the same ups and downs that everyone else has gone through before them. What the writers have done here though is hit up Urban Dictionary and gone gung-ho to see how many times they can make the audience cringe over sex slang they’ve probably never even heard of. Don’t know what a “tunnel buddy” is? You will soon enough.
I did find myself smiling a couple times here and there thanks to Abby Elliott’s brief impression of Drew Barrymore and one other scene that I can’t even remember, but all in all, the script is trying too damn hard to be funny and that’s usually a recipe for failure. It’s not like there was a chorus of crickets in the audience because a lot of other folks were laughing a lot more than I was, but sitting through this kept bringing on flashbacks of seeing Best in Show and Meet the Parents with my mom back in the day, and those were not good times. It’s more just uncomfortable to listen to than anything else and too much of the humor is just aimed at grossing the audience out or making a running gag out of some random shit like a kid in the background who takes pictures of his whang and shows them to unsuspecting girls. Man, it’s weak stuff and it really did have the potential to be good, if not decent.
So, the script is generally harsh, but it is endearing to a degree, it’s not trying to reinvent the wheel and at least it’s well aware of that. And surprisingly enough, the cast ain’t too bad either.
As much as I’d like to say that Natalie Portman is doing a great job of enrolling in the Cuba Gooding, Jr. School of Imploding Your Career One Movie At a Time by following up Black Swan with this, she’s the best thing this movie’s got going for it. Just so adorable, likable and watchable as our gal Emma and she makes it work because she seems so naturally fun. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting a bit ahead of myself here, but Portman’s a peach and this role wasn’t the misstep I expected it to be.
And I’ll save the Ashton Kutcher bashing for the day when I’m forced to watch Killers because, strangely enough, he’s fine here as the emotional half of the relationship, Adam. I thought having to watch him play Ashton Kutcher for two hours would have been the teeth-grinding experience of the year, but he doesn’t have to do a whole lot and that suits him just fine. Not a whole lot to say really, just happy things ended up working out alright.
But Kevin Kline got totally shafted with a horribly written role as Kutcher’s a-hole dad. Poor guy, he should be getting the royal treatment without fail after A Fish Called Wanda.
And then there’s Ludacris, Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling, Olivia Thirlby and Lake Bell in bit roles, and they all play their parts. A bearded Cary Elwes is also here as Portman’s boss of sorts, he’s got maybe three lines in the whole movie and his character really could have been written out entirely from square one. Just another case of unnecessary randomness from this script.
But for the most part, I’d actually say this movie is more like a 4 than a 3. It’s not terrible by any means and Natalie Portman is a major saving grace, but the thing I keep coming back to is that movies like No Strings Attached are the enemy. If it’s a light, cutesy, predictable rom-com that you’re in the mood for, then you’ll probably love this and I won’t knock ya’ for it. Different strokes for different folks, I can respect that. Then again, this just wasn’t for me and I’m dead tired of writers, directors and actors signing up to be part of the same damn movie time and time again without any noticeable difference outside of upping the awkward factor. Ladies, fellas, we can do better, we deserve better.
Sad to see Ivan Reitman attached to this, too. You directed Ghostbusters, dude. What the hell happened?