No Strings Attached

"A perfectly acceptable romantic comedy."

No Strings Attached kind of wants to pretend that it came up with the idea of friends with benefits, that somehow this concept has gone long undiscussed and by gum, it's time to have a real exploration of this important issue facing our society. "Can there be sex without someone getting hurt?" The film begs us to consider, and from the get-go it seems impossible. The problem is veteran director Ivan Reitman isn't breaking new ground or exploring anything other than the very modern and deeply ingrained desire to have it all, and we as an audience are pitted against the characters even as we cheer them on toward a relationship as they make a halfhearted attempt to keep it simple. Love seems to need obstacles to overcome, and the obstacles in this case aren't time- or space- or family-related, but are the fears and concerns that make up our everyday lives.
Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) play longtime friends who decide to make a go of it, trading on their mutual attraction for a sexual relationship with no expectations. She's the busy doctor who can't commit and doesn't believe in love anyway, he's the goofy romantic Hollywood assistant who's willing to take her on her terms. So far so good. With each of them daring the other one to fall in love, it seems obvious from the start that they're perfect for each other. We follow them through their non-relationship, complete with secret trysts, emotional complications, family dinners, and various obligations as they attempt to navigate their own feelings as well as the problems that keep a relationship from happening.
Coming off the serious dramatic success of Black Swan and her heralded performance in it, Natalie Portman is only acceptable in her coldhearted and steadfast refusal to be swept away by emotions. Ashton Kutcher plays a slightly less hyper version of himself, all grinning excitement and boyish charm, filled with so much zest for life and patient understanding that it's a little exhausting just to watch this saint of a human deal with the rest of the civilians. The supporting cast is a vast crew of friendly faces, including Kevin Kline as the preposterous and blustery father of Ashton Kutcher's character; Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling as Portman's BFFs; Cary Elwes as a distinguished doctor; and the surprising Lake Bell, who stands out above all else as an awkward and timid co-worker looking for love.
No Strings Attached isn't particularly funny; the comedic moments are mostly tired-out tropes that would have been annoying a decade ago. Yet the film is realistic in some ways, and a complete lie in many others, but at its worst it's still a perfectly acceptable romantic comedy. The female characters are capable and strong, if not a little silly, the men are full of bravado and machismo that melts away when it needs to, and there's a dearth of idiotic one-liners (only one violent offender springs to mind). And let's hear it for a film that is set in Los Angeles that actually utilizes the city: Adam is an (improbably attractive) assistant with writer aspirations on a TV show that is Glee-esque, Emma hangs out downtown, and the pair even end up at the very recognizable L.A. County Museum of Art. Whereas 500 Days of Summer tried to convince us that Los Angeles was really more like San Francisco or New York, No Strings Attached likes Los Angeles the way it is, just brighter and cleaner. No Strings Attached won't surprise or enthrall you, but it's a fine way to spend a few hours.

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