January 22, 2011

No Strings Attached

A surprisingly good, thoughtful, mature, and nuanced romantic sex comedy.
The TV commercials made it look like FuckBuddies: The Movie, but the movie itself does a lot more than that.
Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are childhood friends who run into each other every couple of years, When Harry Met Sally style. When Adam's father (Kevin Kline) starts sleeping with Adam's ex girlfriend, he goes on a night of manic drinking. He wakes up naked in Emma's apartment: he didn't have sex with her the night before, but they have a fifteen-years-in-the-making quickie by the dawn's early light.
Thus begins a no-strings-attached sex-only non-friendship. Unlike that episode of Seinfeld, where Jerry and Elaine are exes-turned-friends who want to start having the sex part again, Emma and Adam aren't exes, and they aren't really friends.
Emma refuses to open up emotionally, she uses Adam as a sexual release only. Adam is the romantic puppy dog type, which is against their ground rules, but speaks the truth about what they're both feeling.

The plot and structure break no new ground, but I really appreciated the adult tone, and by "adult", I don't mean gross-out humor, sex talk, or swearing as a punchline, although that stuff is present. What I mean is, the characters talk like real people talk, they swear like real people do. They have impromptu sex, with fumbling of clothes and condom applicating, like real people (just prettier.) On TV and in PG-13 movies, you don't always miss the lack of swearing, until you watch a rated R movie like No Strings Attached, where people talk frankly. At one point in the movie, a character calls another and opens themselves up emotionally...but gets turned down. Their response? "Oh fuck!"
The plot and structure won't win any awards, but the movie gets kudos for not fucking up the ending. The last scene of the movie nearly takes place at a wedding ceremony, but thank God that was avoided.
My review has a twist ending: the movie was directed by Ivan Reitman! He directed Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters. Since 1984, he's directed ten mostly forgettable movies, and now this. No Strings Attached is hardly a comedy classic, but "thoughtful and nuanced romantic comedy" is okay too.
The Cast: The TV commercials didn't interest me, but once I heard that this movie was above average, I was intrigued to see if Natalie Portman could be funny. Answer: surprisingly YES. She has a couple of funny scenes, especially when she gets drunk. Her drunk walk is terrific, and she goes off on some other drunken skanks like a berzerking hamster. Ashton Kutcher is a foot taller than Portman, and they do make jokes about this in the movie. I never really watched That 70s Show, but I have liked Kutcher since Dude, Where's My Car? He's charming, funny, and pleasantly subtle and vulnerable. Jake Johnson and Ludacris are terrific as Adam's friends. Emma's friends are also great, especially Mindy Kaling. Lake Bell is a manic talkative coworker of Adam's, and who knew she could be funny? She was sexy, tall, and dramatic on the TV show Surface, Alec Baldwin's Amazonian wife in It's Complicated, and somehow she's only 5'8"? She looks seven feet tall!
SEX NOTE: Natalie Portman has had graphic movie sex with two stars of That 70s Show: Kutcher, and Mila Kunis in Black Swan. Topher Grace, call your agent!
TRAILER NOTES: A few weeks ago I saw a preview for this movie plus two others: The Farelly Brothers' new comedy Hall Pass, where two married men are given a week off from their marriages, and Friends With Benefits, which might be the exact same premise as No Strings Attached, except with Justin Timberlake and a different petite brunette from Black Swan (Mila Kunis)? Apparently romantic sex comedies come in threes.
THEATER NOTES: At the Harvard Square Church St Screen 1. Thanks to Amy, Mary Beth, and Laura for coming out to the movies in the subzero temperatures. Especially Laura, who traditionally prefers more explosions and gunfire in her movies! This was one of those Los Angeles Utopia movies which makes you want to move there, and be wealthy, and not have to work. I Love You, Man had the same effect on me. All those t-shirts and jeans, gentle Pacific breezes, and rust-free vintage cars are especially alluring when you're wearing six wool and flannel-lined layers. No one has to park in a snowbank in this movie.