Emma and Adam are life-long friends who almost ruin everything by having sex one morning.
No Strings Attached is exactly what you think it will be and less. The plot is, as you are likely to have already deduced, features two casual acquaintances hooking up for sex until – shock horror! – their emotions complicate matters. The treatment of this story could have been of interest, but unfortunately the director Ivan Reitman chooses to take a slightly Carry On Bonking approach to the material rather than anything more inquiring. Since this film features Ashton Kutcher, Hollywood’s favourite lunkhead, this isn’t such a shock – but one would be forgiven for expecting more of Natalie Portman. As executive producer and leading lady she has more than enough responsibility for the final cut, and her game acting isn’t enough to save the film. I suspect she adopted the project due to its showcasing of an independent, intelligent young professional woman. Fair enough; I can imagine such a role appeals after completing a film as exhausting as Black Swan. But No Strings Attached lacks a good script, and good scripts are what romantic comedies rely upon to hold the audience’s interest.
Anyway. Kutcher plays Adam, an eager young television producer whose Sloaney British girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond) leaves him for his hedonistic TV star father (Kevin Kline). Devastated, he gets drunk and wakes up naked in an unfamiliar apartment, which happens to be inhabited by his old summer camp crush Emma (Portman) plus her kooky flatmates. Shenanigans eventually ensue, and Emma recruits him for booty-calling purposes. The following montage of clothes being flung aside for giggly, slapstick coition in unorthodox venues is tame to say the least. The sense that everyone involved was a bit bashful and gauche about sexual frankness pervades the film and lets it down.
The other let down is the dialogue, which is crammed full of awkward, unfunny non-sequiturs and unsubtle set-ups. Emma’s aversion to commitment and Adam’s refusal to accept it feels forced; the two lovers boringly micro-analyse their every encounter and What It Means. Falling asleep together is Not On. Spooning is Not On. Being seen ‘together’ in public together is…you get the idea. I can see that the writer was aiming to balance out the rom-com idea that every woman will do anything for a man, but the dynamic is handled with over-literal gracelessness. I came away thinking that the same subject would’ve worked far better in an artier film, where expressions are allowed to replace words. Friendship with benefits is surely much more tacit than what is depicted here.
Things reach a denouement after Emma initiates a bust-up, and Kutcher delivers one of the worst lines of romantic dialogue I have heard in quite some time. Getting to this point isn’t all painful though – there are some laughs along the way, mainly thanks to scenes featuring Lake Bell, who plays Adam’s awkward TV set colleague, and a handful of funny scenarios. Still, the joke-to-laugh ratio is pretty disappointing. Thanks to the vaguely surreal attempts at humour and the half-arsed hospital interludes No Strings Attached feels more like an extended episode of Scrubs than anything else. It’s a shame because the makers clearly wanted this film to work, and I can’t help but feel that Reitman should’ve done his job better – by firing the writer for a start.