Movie Review Monday: No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached is the first of a new handful of romantic comedies to focus on the topic of “friends with benefits” AKA “fuck buddies”. Hollywood’s obsession of the moment seems to be the notion that today’s twentysomethings have managed to completely split sex and love. These busy young professionals are far more adept at sexual hook ups than romantic relationships, and in fact prefer casual sex with a skilled partner to time-consuming and emotionally demanding commitments.

Of course, such subject matter makes for a romcom that is automatically more spiky and sexual than fluffy and sanitised. No Strings Attached may be off-putting for viewers who find promiscuous behaviour distasteful but for everyone else it makes for a solid relationship-centred film that, at least in parts, feels more credible than most. At the same time it seems appropriate to call No Strings Attached simply a relationship movie than a romantic comedy – it’s more a drama with some amusing moments than constantly laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Directed by veteran comedy filmmaker Ivan Reitman, No Strings Attached centres on wannabe TV writer Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and doctor Emma (Natalie Portman), friends who have continually bumped into each other on both sides of the US since their teens. The pair meet up again in Los Angeles, and, both liking each other, make a casual sex arrangement – with rules in place to end it should anyone develop deeper feelings. Inevitably it’s sensitive Adam who tires first with the booty calls, and seeks something more, which doesn’t sit well with Emma, who has a history of disengaging her emotions.

Much like Portman’s character, No Strings Attached warms up as the movie progresses. The sexual humour becomes more naturally integrated with events, although the funniest scenes are definitely those involving Emma’s roommates – medical residents who come across like the Grey’s Anatomy cast taken to a comic extreme.

Although the cinema audience (consisting almost entirely of women) responded especially well to the roommates’ “period mix” scene, No Strings Attached is still one of the better, more accessible options for male viewers being roped into a romcom movie date at the moment. Even if it’s Kutcher, and not Portman, who essentially carries the film with his likeability.

There are a few gripes to be made about No Strings Attached. The film gives Kevin Kline an interesting role as Adam’s charismatic but cowardly father (a former sitcom star), but at the same time the character, and Adam’s behind-the-scenes job at a knock-off High School Musical show, make you wonder why romcom figures rarely have “real” backgrounds. The inclusion of such exotic elements really lessens a sense of believability. They highlight that these characters aren’t us; or functioning in our identifiable, if admittedly mundane, universe.

A more serious problem though in No Strings Attached is that inevitably the film can’t escape genre conventions. Much like the surprisingly incisive He’s Just Not That Into You, there are a few painfully real verbal exchanges that slice through the game-playing, but the last 20 minutes are dominated by misinterpretations, emotion see-sawing and unexpected events that make characters take stock of their priorities. And, of course, everyone gets the ending they deserve.

No Strings Attached certainly isn’t rubbish. The film is entertaining enough. It’s just that it’s nothing exceptional, or a new romantic movie classic. Good, not great.


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