thu 14/11/2019

No Strings Attached | reviews, news & interviews

No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

Natalie Portman isn't the only girl to swoon over cute Ashton Kutcher

No flowers, please: Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher as mismatched lovers

There's nobody who plays Ashton Kutcher quite like Ashton Kutcher and, in this pleasant and undemanding romcom, he plays another cute guy whom all the girls (and boys of course) swoon over. This time he’s Adam, the sweet and rather vulnerable twentysomething son of Kevin Kline’s rascally-old-devil father,  who's three-times divorced, still doing drugs, and chasing young women as his 60th birthday looms.

In fact, it’s that paternal girl-chasing on which this initially episodic film turns after we have met Adam and Emma (Natalie Portman) at several points in their lives - first as teenagers at summer camp, then a college frat party, and lastly when they bump into each other at a farmers’ market in Los Angeles, the city where she is studying to be a doctor and he is an assistant television producer with hopes of becoming a writer.

Shortly after that chance meeting, Adam finds out that his dad is dating his recent ex-girlfriend, and he goes on a bender. Late into the evening he texts Portman (recently Oscar-nominated for a vastly different role in Black Swan but who won’t be troubling the Academy in this much lighter fare, which she executive-produced), and spends the night at her apartment.

In one of the film’s few really funny scenes, Emma’s flatmates, male and female, allow him to think in his befuddled state that he may have had sex with one or all of them, but Emma him puts him out of his misery and tells him he had in fact passed out on the sofa after some hilarious dick-swinging exploits, which she mimics to great effect.

But then Adam and Emma finally become lovers and he’s keen to go out on a proper date; commitment-phobe that she is, Emma suggests that they become friends with benefits - lovers with the no strings attached of the title. (Incidentally the original title was “Fuck Buddies” but clearly somewhere along the line that edginess got lost.)

And that’s the story really, because of course you know what will happen. I’m really not giving anything away to say that after a lot of rip-your-clothes-off sex they end up together - but only after Adam falls in love with Emma; they break up when she can’t/won’t commit; the obligatory wedding (her sister’s) that makes Emma realise she loves Adam; and the equally obligatory medical emergency (his dad’s) that makes Adam realise he has to try one more time - because Ivan Reitman’s film, written by Elizabeth Meriwether, is film-making by numbers. It's a shame, because this could have been a thoroughly original take on the genre, since the guy is the soppy romantic one and the gal is the sex hound, but the exposition is plodding and the love story never truly ignites.

I don’t mind admitting I have a weakness for Hollywood shmaltz so can quite happily sit through hours of this stuff, but I was unmoved by No Strings Attached. Whether it’s the lack of chemistry between Kutcher and Portman, or the obvious trajectory of Meriwether’s script, or the fact that no character other than Adam is given any kind of back story (quite why Emma is so reluctant to have a settled relationship is never explained, for instance), or the criminal under-use of LA as a romantic backdrop, I can’t tell.

But there’s the occasional sharp line, plus nice support from Greta Gerwig and Jake Johnson as Emma and Adam’s friends, while Kevin Kline acts the lot of them off screen. And Ashton Kutcher, who spends a goodly proportion of this film in a state of undress, really is super-cute.


NATALIE PORTMAN ON THEARTSDESK

Brothers (2010). Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal duke it out on the domestic battlefield

Black Swan (2011). OTT, Grand Guignol, horrid, and hilariously enjoyable - it's ballet, up to a point

Natalie Portman in Your HighnessYour Highness (2011). Gross-out comes to medieval England. Here's hoping it bought a return ticket

Thor (2011). 3D graphics and 2D gods: Marvel's version of Norse myth is best when earthbound

Knight of Cups (2016). Terrence Malick's first movie shot in LA is a star-studded disappointment

Jackie (2017). One brief shining moment that was known as Camelot: how the Kennedy legacy was born

The original title was “Fuck Buddies” but clearly somewhere along the line that edginess got lost

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