The latest in a long line of iffy romantic comedies, No Strings Attached benefits from the undeniable charm of its leads but fails to elevate itself due to uninspiring writing.
When Adam asks Emma if he can ‘finger her’ while at Summer Camp, one could never imagine they will end up meeting again years later and striking up a friendship. Emma (Natalie Portman) has trouble relating to the usual range of human emotion, so instead of pursuing a romantic relationship with Adam (Ashton Kutcher), she suggests they become ‘friends with benefits’ AKA ‘fuck buddies’. The rules are simple – don’t fall in love. But whaddya know?
Really the only thing that makes this even close to watchable is the casting of the leads: Portman is magnetic in pretty much everything she’s ever been in (although the dire Star Wars prequels are probably the worst films she’s done), while Kutcher is starting to find a niche as a romantic lead. He seems unlikely ever to become the modern Cary Grant, however he was one of the only stars to enhance their reputation in Valentine’s Day, and I still enjoy his work in 2005’s A Lot Like Love.
Although Portman’s charm means Emma isn’t a complete failure, she suffers under the weight of a character that just doesn’t really make much sense. Perhaps the issue is the writing: No Strings Attached is (500) Days of Summer-lite. Emma starts the film as a confident adult and finishes it a quivering mess, and this is solely the fault of a script that doesn’t have the guts to maintain its premise through to its inevitable conclusion. Sure, the ‘Hollywood ending’ might mean it puts more bums on seats, but it’s just not that honest.
The film also suffers from being over-long. At a hefty 108 minutes, the audience might well be wishing Emma and Adam would just get their shit sorted rather than enjoying every last twist and turn their relationship will take. One particular sub-plot easily could have been trimmed to allow the film to make smoother progress, although the appearance of Kevin Kline in a supporting role provides a needed boost.
Although most of the audience for a film like this probably won’t stop to ponder the greater issues, one could be forgiven for asking what purpose is served by repackaging and rebranding the same film over and over, other than the obvious answer: the pursuit of wealth. As far as modern romantic comedies go, No Strings Attached is at best passable, and yet, when lined up against the greats of the genre, it falls embarassingly short.Rating: