Natalie Portman is on a roll. In the last two months, she’s starred in Black Swan, for which earned a Golden Globe, was featured on the cover of Vogue, announced her engagement and pregnancy, and is earning advanced praise for her performance in the forthcoming indie drama The Other Woman. Now, in a far less praiseworthy role, she’s starring in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached opposite Ashton Kutcher.
In No Strings Attached, Portman plays Emma, a beautiful young doctor who has some pretty major issues with commitment. After a one-night stand with Adam (Kutcher), an old camp friend, she proposes that they continue to use each other for sex, no strings attached. Overworked and uninterested in/afraid of a relationship, Emma thinks this is the perfect arrangement, as long as neither of them gets too emotionally involved. Where When Harry Met Sally asked if men and women could be friends without sex complicating the situation, No Strings Attached asks if men and women can have sex without love complicating the situation. (Emma and Adam come to the conclusion that they can’t.) The story also features Kevin Kline as Alvin, Adam’s dysfunctional father and the star of a popular 80’s sitcom; Olivia Thirlby as Emma’s romantic sister, Katie; Mindy Kaling and Greta Gerwig as Emma’s roommates; and Ludacris and Jake M. Johnson as Adam’s wingmen.
The movie is as predictable as can be and it seems that to compensate screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether created intentionally weird moments that don’t seem to fit together. The whole opening sequence was disjointed and uncomfortable. Alvin is so bizarre and inappropriate it seems impossible that he could have parented good-hearted Adam. Basically, the first half of the movie feels like a teen comedy mashed up with an extra-long episode of Grey’s Anatomy while the second half is a by-the-book romantic comedy. Perhaps it could have been better if Shonda Rhimes was involved. Still, the movie includes some pretty great lines. While most of the movie was kind of a yawn, a few scenes really stand out for their cleverness and warmth. A scene in which Emma and her roommates—two other women and a gay man—have miserably wound up with synced cycles and Adam comes over with cupcakes and a “period mix” CD is too funny and adorable to soon be forgotten.
The acting in the movie is consistently strong. Kutcher is, as usual, affable and charming as Adam. Portman makes a slight departure from her normal good-girl roles, but she’s still so put-together and smart that it’s hard to buy that her character is as much trouble as we’re led to believe she is. Still, if there was any fear of her being typecast for the rest of her career, Black Swan pretty much shattered it. The supporting cast was my favorite part of the whole movie. Emma’s roommates are fun to watch and Lake Bell, who plays Adam’s super awkward co-worker steals every scene she’s in.
I left No Strings Attached with really mixed feelings. On the one hand, the acting was strong and the scenes I liked I liked a lot. On the other, the story was predictable and the writing inconsistent. For a January release, No Strings Attached is pretty good, but overall it fell short. 2.5/5 stars
No Strings Attached was written by Elizabeth Meriwether and directed by Ivan Reitman. It runs 110 minutes and is rated R for pretty obvious reasons.
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