Saturday, January 29, 2011

He Said/She Said: No Strings Attached

Pinocchio once sang, "I've got no strings to hold me down," but my nose isn't growing when I say that No Strings Attached turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It's a rom-com that's spicier, and even more touching, than any Ashton Kutcher comedy released in January has a right to be.

Granted, it certainly helps that the female lead is the Girl of the Moment, Natalie Portman.  She makes even the fluffiest of genres seem smarter just by showing up - she's very winning and even rather funny in the film to boot.

Portman plays Emma, a workaholic doctor who says she doesn't have time for relationships, and that may be techincally true, but her bigger problem is that she's a commitment-phobe who's afraid that any serious relationship will only fall apart.

So when she and an on-again/off-again acquaintance named Adam (Ashton Kutcher) begin sleeping together, she suggests keeping it strictly sexual, and Adam is fine with that - but it's clear from the beginning there's more to these two than what goes on between the sheets - or between the water droplets or wherever they happen to be doing the deed.

So that's why, when the movie veers away from their scenes together, it flags a bit. Adam works as an assistant on a show that's obviously a riff on Glee, but the movie doesn't base very many jokes around this idea, and the jokes that are there are not very funny at all. The movie would have been a little better had it completely dropped that subplot. And for that matter, Kevin Kline's role as Adam's lecherous father is undercooked too.

When the screenplay by Elizabeth Meriweather deals directly with the central couple, however, it's smart it sports a lot of laugh out loud lines. Inevitably, the relationship must fall apart before Everything Turns Out All Right in the End, but even that cliched plotting plays out well, because I genuinely cared for the two leads.

So did my colleague Hannah Poturalski, who wrote in her review:

For the film’s first half, the relationship between Kutcher and Portman did feel forced to me. But as their characters started to care for each other more it became real on the screen. I liked watching the evolution of their casual friendship into one of caring adoration.

Which brings me to the lead I haven't written about, Ashton Kutcher. He's absolutely fine in his part, even if he'll never have chops as good as Portman's. Still, he's quite convincing when he does actually fall for Portman, and hey, who can blame the guy?

Hannah praised Kutcher as well, maybe somewhat faintly:

It’s nice to see Kutcher in a rom-com that transcends the stupidity of Just Married and My Boss’s Daughter.

No Strings Attached also represents a nice rebound for director Ivan Reitman, who had helmed one disappointment after another with underwhelming fare like Evolution and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. I was glad to see him direct a film that didn't make me fret or make me frown.

Hannah caps her review with a compelling question:

Can two people have no strings attached sex without falling for the other? I know my answer.
I think I do too. Read her full take here.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree. Ashton and the "it" girl are a winning combination. There's some genuinely funny writing, too. The period mix tape is laugh-out-loud funny.