I am not a fan of romantic comedies, so I did not expect to enjoy a second of No Strings Attached. Therefore, it is to the movie’s considerable credit that I left the theater good-humored and glad to have spent the price of admission.
No Strings Attached pulls a flip-flop on the traditional Hollywood rom-com in a couple of ways. Instead of two people falling in love until they finally hook up, we have two people hooking up until they finally fall in love. Instead of a hopelessly romantic girl pining for a guy who is afraid to commit, we have a hopelessly romantic guy chasing after a girl who is afraid to commit. Everything else is perfectly predictable. There is an awkward courtship followed by miscommunications that result in a tragic estrangement and then everything ends happily-ever-after, with a wedding no less.
Our Romeo is Adam, a happy-go-lucky production assistant for a High School Musical type-show, played by Ashton Kutcher. The Juliet is Emma, an over-worked emotionally distant medical resident played by Natalie Portman. Both leads are awkward, affable and attractive as they ought to be considering that these are the same sort of roles Portman and Kutcher always do. Fortunately, the couple has a healthy chemistry when they could have just as easily sleepwalked through the film. This is largely thanks to a lively script with punchy dialog, blunt humor, odd 90s musical references and a cast of supporting characters who alternate between likable and despicable.
Adam’s dad, played by Kevin Kline, is a drug abusing, has-been TV star who is dating his son’s ex-girlfriend. Chris Bridges, perhaps better known as Ludacris, puts in a fun performance as Adam’s smart and surprisingly sensitive best friend.
Lake Bell also has a memorable performance as Adam’s well-meaning but obnoxiously talkative colleague.
The film starts off strong, where it plays less like a predictable romance and more like a screwball comedy. We see Adam and Emma share a painfully awkward conversation at summer camp together, followed by a second meeting in college where she asks him to accompany her to “some stupid thing,” which turns out to be her father’s funeral.
Things start to go downhill after a frantic but tame hook-up montage when Adam instantly starts to develop the romantic feelings he promised not to. There are a few other bright spots, like Adam’s mix-tape for menstruation, and Emma chewing out a pair of lesbians who she thinks Adam has slept with.
There were a couple moments that suggested a keener sense of self-awareness than what the movie winds up settling for, and I cannot help but wonder how the things could have played out if writers Elizabeth Meriwether and Michael Samonek pushed themselves to write a comic ending that didn’t resort to a fairy tale wrap-up.
It would be a much harder sell without the big red ribbon of romantic closure, but it also might have been something more memorable and intelligent.
Then again, a conventional romantic comedy with Kutcher and Portman could have ended up a lot worse, too. If you’re in the mood for something in between There’s Something About Mary and 500 Days of Summer, give No Strings Attached a try.