Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher try to have hot steamy sex but none of those squishy emotions in No Strings Attached, a chemistry- and romance-free romantic comedy.
Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) have known each other off and on for years. They met first as young teens in summer camp and have bumped into each other here and there — college, post-college. Which is how Emma’s number ended up on Adam’s phone when he one night, post painful breakup, decided to call every girl in his address book until he found one who would sleep with him.
Emma is a busy doctor and likes Adam well enough. Adam is a busy TV show crew member, hoping to become a writer, and also likes Emma, perhaps a little more than she allows herself to like him. She posits that since they are both busy people, instead of trying to have one of those messy icky relationships, how about they just stick to sex. Sex without fighting or pet names or obligations to stick around in the morning. Also, without jealousy or expectation of monogamy. And because they’ve never ever seen a romantic comedy before, they think it just might work.
I’m not necessarily arguing that Portman and Kutcher could never have chemistry — I’m not even arguing that they could never have chemistry with each other. They just don’t in this movie. Here, they seem stiff and hammy, careening from wackiness (Kevin Kline shows up as Adam’s formerly famous dad who has a habit of hitting on his girlfriends) to what I think is supposed to be real emotion to sexiness to cutesy hipster dorkiness. Nothing feels genuine or organic. The movie throws in little details — Adam works at a TV show that looks like a cross between Glee and High School Musical — but doesn’t let them pay off. And yet they feel like they’ve been set up to provide some big punchline — nothing in this movie feels like life, it all feels like a situation waiting for some laugh-track-enhanced comedy.
As not infrequently happens with rom-coms like this, it’s the supporting characters that make up the movie’s bright spots. Mindy Kaling (who plays Kelly Kapoor and writes for The Office) and Greta Gerwig (best known for playing the female lead in Greenberg) play Emma’s roommates. While they are often left with only weak sassy-girl lines, they are still the best thing about this movie. I wanted to follow Gerwig’s character’s geeky romance with Jake M. Johnson (who plays Adam’s sassy roommate), not the heatless nonsense happening with Kutcher and Portman. And while Ludacris is completely wasted as Adam’s auxiliary buddy, I would have been interested in seeing more with him as well.
This movie is actually not as bad as, say, Life As We Know It, the latest Katherine Heigl movie, or How Do You Know, the most recent rom-com, which was messy and boring and just generally horrible. But I found myself not just bored and wanting the movie to be over but also a little angry at the movie. And I think its smart supporting characters and its stab at addressing modern romance (not the “friends with benefits” idea per se, which is old and has been done as far back as the early years of the Chandler-Monica relationship on Friends, but the overall sense that true love is scary) are the reasons why. This movie tries just enough to be something interesting that it gets your hopes up, making them all the more easy to dash.
Rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material. Directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Elizabeth Meriwether and Michael Samonek, No Strings Attached is an hour and 50 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures.