There is something quite special about getting ready to watch a movie. You get your drink and your snacks, make yourself comfortable, and prepare to be entertained for the next couple of hours. So isn’t it a crushing disappointment when you realise, after the first scene of the film, that you’re not going to like the movie at all?
This is exactly the reaction I had less than five minutes into No Strings Attached. As the title suggests, the plot of the movie revolves around two friends who decide to embark on a purely sexual relationship without any ramifications. Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is on the rebound after discovering his ex-girlfriend is now dating his father, ageing TV star Alvin (Kevin Kline).
After a drunken night out, he decides to call up all the girls in his phonebook, and eventually wakes up naked on a coach belonging to Emma (Natalie Portman). As a busy doctor, she has no time for a relationship, so the two fall into a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement, which soon turns into something more serious, much to Adam’s delight and Emma’s disgust.
But this is a Hollywood rom-com after all, so it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens next. The formulaic setup of the movie, though, isn’t its biggest flaw. After all, if you pick a rom-com to watch, unless its makers really pull the rug from under your feet, you know what to expect, and the expected is exactly what you’re seeking out.
However, what really undoes this film is that the characters all range from dislikeable to couldn’t-care-less-about-them, and the central romance is flatter than a pancake. Kutcher in the lead role of Adam basically takes over the female side of the proceedings, mainly by wanting their relationship to become more than about just sex, but ends up being just eye candy for the screen, as his character has little to no development throughout the movie, even though it spans years rather than months.
Meanwhile, Portman just looks plain uncomfortable playing the emotionally cut off Emma, and I can’t help but wonder if the only real reason she’s here is for the pay cheque and her executive producer credit. After her turn in Black Swan, I was hoping to see a lot more of Portman’s dramatic side, but after this and Your Highness, I think she really needs to pull something great out of the bag to retain the respect she has rightly built up for herself. She deserves a lot better than this.
The overall reason for my disliking this film is its crude humour and constant use of swear words for little to no effect. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total stick in the mud, and I’ve found myself laughing out loud to a lot of movies that pretty much fall into this category (I love the original American Pie series, and more recently, Role Models), but here, the humour and language is just so forced. You feel they’ve put it all in just because they can.
If this sort of thing is done right it can be very funny. Done wrong, and you just roll your eyes and pray that an ending is in sight. It just makes me sad that director Ivan Reitman is still churning this sort of rubbish out. After all, he’s the genius who brought us Ghostbusters, but since the mid-90s it seems as though he’s chosen all the wrong projects, which saddens me a great deal.
It seems that sex based rom-coms are the rage this year, with the similar Friends With Benefits (starring Portman’s Black Swan co-star Mila Kunis) due to be released later this summer. Personally, I think it’s a subgenre I could do without, as nothing so far has managed to make the subject enjoyable to watch. Maybe there’s a great script out there somewhere that hits the nail on the head, but this film misses the mark entirely.
Much like the movie itself, the extras on the disc are pretty much devoid of any real content. There’s a director’s commentary, which is pretty interesting, but makes no apologies for what a mess this film is. There are some deleted scenes and alternate scenes, both of which were better left on the cutting room floor. Also included on the DVD are two featurettes.
The first, Sex Friends: Getting Together explains how the film’s sex buddy concept came together. The second, Inside The Sassy Halls Of Secret High, takes a look at how they put together the fake High School Musical/Glee rip off TV show that Adam was working on in the movie. This has to be the most pointless (there are only two real scenes it is involved in) and boring featurette I have ever seen in a long, long time…
You can rent or buy No Strings Attached at Blockbuster.co.uk.