The Good: One or two charming moments, One or two acting moments
The Bad: Stale plot, Terribly stiff acting, Utterly unlikable characters
The Basics: No Strings Attached fails to land the premise before delving into it fully, making for a terrible romantic comedy that is utterly unromantic and seldom funny.
Ever since I saw and praised Friends With Benefits (reviewed here!), I've been told that the movie - whose plot I admitted was nothing terribly new - was just a rehash of No Strings Attached which came out about six months prior. So, today, I figured it was about time to watch No Strings Attached. Now, as the movie finishes up and I start my review, I am astonished that anyone has ever compared No Strings Attached with Friends With Benefits. While the Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis vehicle is funny, charming and surprisingly well-acted, No Strings Attached is none of those things.
No Strings Attached has such a predictable plot as to be almost not worth mentioning, but what truly sinks the movie is that the characters are monolithic and unlikable. And the worst element of No Strings Attached is that the two leads, Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, have absolutely no chemistry on screen. None. Zippo. Zilch. The acting is so stiff that Dylan Hayes and Stefanie Scott who open the movie as the young versions of Adam and Emma have so much more chemistry than the adult actors that they pretty much gut any surprise the movie might have had.
Starting at a summer camp, fifteen years before the primary action, Adam laments that his father is getting divorced to camp friend Emma, then asks is he can finger her. Ten years later, Emma is visiting a friend's frat party and runs into Adam. Having no one else she knows in the area, she invites Adam to her father's funeral the next day and he obliges. Four years later Emma and Adam run into one another when their friends run into each other and then a year later, they reconnect again. At that time, Adam is working on a television show (like Glee) and Emma is working at a local hospital. The morning after Adam gets super drunk after finding his father and ex-girlfriend are now together, Adam and Emma begin a "friends who have sex" relationship.
Soon, the pair is by all appearances a functioning couple who are trying to restrain their own feelings. Emma insists Adam see other women, despite getting jealous when he does and Adam begins to advance his professional career, which earns him the attention of one of the producers on the show he is working on. As the two have lots of sex, they struggle with both the perception and reality that they are developing real emotional bonds, bonds which Emma is afraid to acknowledge.
No Strings Attached is such a simple movie that it is hard to find more to write about it. Writers Elizabeth Meriwether and Michael Samonek try to give their characters some depth, but the fail in that they tell far more than they show. So, for example, Emma is supposed to be characterized as a woman who doesn't want a relationship - her mother asserts because her father died and she took it hard - but she is initially characterized as a nihilist and that's fine. The problem is, instantly upon getting into the faux-relationship with Adam, she is invested in it as if it is a real relationship. In other words, the writers are all talk on Emma not wanting a relationship, so the "conflict" she feels late in the film is exceptionally forced.
Moreover, none of the characters are particularly interested or compelling. Adam's father, ably enough played by Kevin Kline, is utterly impossible to empathize with as he consorts with Vanessa, Adam's ex. The subplot with Emma's sister, Katie finding love and getting married feels like just what it is, a subplot and it leads to plot-predictable moments that bring the movie back to Emma and Adam.
As for the acting, I want to be thorough, but there were no extraordinary performances on any front. Ludacris, who was vibrant in Crash (reviewed here!) is restrained in a supporting role in No Strings Attached. Cary Elwes is restrained and unrecognizable with his beard as Dr. Metzner. Lake Bell seems like a poor director's Amanda Peet. And, the two most viewers will care about - Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are uncharacteristically stiff as Emma and Adam. The acting is pretty boring and the principles seem bored with their lines and performances.
On DVD, No Strings Attached comes with a tiresome commentary track in which Ivan Reitman tries to fool the viewer into believing they are watching a movie that is in any way significant or unique. There are four deleted scenes, two alternate scenes and two featurettes, none of which make the primary programming actually worth watching.
For other works with Natalie Portman, please check out my reviews of:
The Star Wars Saga
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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