No Strings Attached

We are frequently told the “good ol’ days” were simpler, happier times.  While the past is often viewed through rose-colored glasses by those who experienced it, the assertion that things were simpler is certainly true.  Relationships are definitely more complicated because of our dedication to chasing after success in our chosen careers.  The rise of Internet dating is a simpler alternative for some; but even that is too time-consuming (not to mention a little scary) for some of today’s busy adults.  The young professionals in this week’s movie, “No Strings Attached,” come up with what seems like a perfect solution:  Just have sex with no commitment.  It’s all the fun without all the hassle and fits perfectly into their busy schedules so, of course, it’s doomed for failure.

Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) have known each other off and on for 15 years, ever since they first met at summer camp.  Now both in Southern California and working to establish themselves in their chosen careers (she’s going to be a doctor, he works on a “Glee-like” TV show where he hopes to become a writer) they stumble into each other again at a low point in Adam’s life:  Adam’s dad Alvin (Kevin Kline), a washed-up actor who starred in a popular 90’s sitcom, is living with Adam’s ex-girlfriend Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond).  Adam doesn’t take the news well and, with the encouragement of his friends Eli (Jake Johnson) and Wallace (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges), decides to have a meaningless hookup with any girl in his cell phone contacts who agrees.  Several hours and a lot of alcohol later, Adam wakes up naked in Emma’s apartment that she shares with Patrice (Greta Gerwig), Shira (Mindy Kaling) and Guy (Guy Branum), three other soon-to-be doctors.  He is told he showed up, began stripping, crying and passed out on the couch.  As they talk about what happened the night before, Emma and Adam have one of those sudden, inexplicable encounters leading to sex.  Adam begins pursuing Emma to begin a relationship but Emma’s 80 hour weeks at the hospital, and her fear of being hurt, make a real dating life impossible.  She proposes an alternative:  They become sex buddies.  If she has the time, she will call, they will hookup and that will be the extent of it with no drama, jealousy or entanglements.  Adam agrees and the two become friends with benefits.

Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman make a predictable romantic comedy a fresh and entertaining time in the dark.  The two leads are surrounded by a terrific supporting cast and are given a script that actually does something many rom-com’s usually fail at:  delivering the laughs. 

Both leads make the film a pleasure to watch.  It is nice to see Portman in a lighter role following the dark and twisted character she plays in “Black Swan.”  It’s also nice to see her with a little extra meat on her bones.  Portman is able to handle comedy with a style and grace that many other actresses lack.  She can utter a crass line filled with foul language and still come off classy.  And while Ashton Kutcher is playing basically the same guy he plays in nearly every movie, he gives Adam a central decency (despite the circumstances) that makes him probably the most grown-up he’s ever been on screen.  The supporting cast of various friends and family members nicely rounds out this universe of people who say witty things at precisely the right time, or the wrong time as the story demands.

There are, however, a few things about the movie that don’t quite ring true.  First, the film has an uneven emotional tone to it.  I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but it seems to go from playful to depressing in just a few seconds.  During the more dramatic sections, the movie’s momentum comes to a dead stop.  If the audience has seen one rom-com, they know how the story is going to go.  It doesn’t seem necessary to dwell on the specifics of the couples’ problems when they’ve been the focal point of the script through the whole film.  Finally, in a couple of sections, the movie takes on a tone of misogyny.  There are references to women, made by women, which are unnecessarily harsh and degrading.  Both of these instances are played for laughs but other types of humor would have been just as effective and less mean.

“No Strings Attached” is rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material.  There are numerous sex scenes.  The first is probably the most graphic but there is no nudity in these scenes.  There is one shot of Ashton Kutcher’s naked behind.  Drug material consists of a couple of people rolling and smoking a joint and discussions of cocaine and psychedelic mushroom use.  There’s also a brief mention of some kind of drink mixing cough syrup and vodka.  Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

A romantic comedy released in January would seem to guarantee a bad time at the theatre and yet “No Strings Attached” delivers an entertaining experience.  Despite a predictable story and some dull, talky sections, the movie delivers the laughs with an appealing cast and makes for a great date night.

“No Strings Attached” gets four guitars out of five.

A crime thriller, a supernatural thriller and an escaped prisoner of war thriller are on the menu this week at your local movie house.  Vote for the next film you’d like me to see and review.

The Mechanic—Jason Statham is an elite assassin who forges a deadly partnership when he takes on a protégé in pursuit of revenge.

The Rite—Anthony Hopkins stars in this thriller about an American seminary student who attends exorcism school at the Vatican.

The Way Back—Colin Farrell and Ed Harris star in the true story of a group of soldiers who escaped from a Siberian gulag in 1942.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.

Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.

Have a question?  Send it to  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.