I showed the trailer for No Strings Attached to my fiancée a while back, assuming we could watch it and mock it for how terrible it would no doubt be. The trailer ended and my fiancée had a look of what I am going to call shame. In a timid voice she said “I kind of want to see it”. And that’s the story of how I ended up in a theatre about to watch the latest Ashton Kutcher rom-com.
My biggest hope for this movie is that Natalie Portman would be so good that she would elevate the movie to a level of quality that perhaps it didn’t deserve to go. And you know what, that’s almost exactly what happened.
No Strings Attached does very little to stray from the usual formula. Boy and girl meet, fall in love, fight, and end up together. I don’t think that’s spoiling anything. Neither of them die or murder someone, it plays out exactly as you would expect every step of the way. Of course with this genre you expect that so the question really becomes, is the journey at least enjoyable? For the most part, it kind of is.
One of my biggest criteria with romantic comedies is whether or not I am actually rooting for the core couple to get together. I maybe was not actively rooting for them in No Strings Attached, but I was at least ok with it. Mostly because I would never want Natalie Portman to be unhappy. Portman is, as mentioned, the definite highlight here. She gives it her all and as a result, sells a lot of the jokes that would have no doubt fallen flat with many other actors. Kutcher is basically just playing his usual dopey self but he isn’t offensively bad here by any means. He’s bland, but tolerable. And people seemed to like it when he showed his ass, so I guess there’s that too.
The jokes in the movie are hit and miss, although there are far more hits than I actually expected. It’s also R rated, which I was not expecting after that first trailer. There are definitely moments where it feels forced, almost as though they decided halfway through production to go for the R and throw some fucks in there. It thankfully however never relies on gross-out gags. It’s more the kind of R rating where people can say ‘dick’ and ‘fuck’ a lot, and I can get behind that.
Beyond our two leads, there is a strong supporting cast. Ludacris had what is likely my favourite line of the movie and most of the characters do get a few moments to shine. The one strange one is Cary Elwes who plays a doctor at the hospital where Portman’s character works. They establish that she has a crush on him and you keep waiting and waiting for something to come of that and yet it never ever does. I think his character only speaks maybe two times. Perhaps some of it ended up on the cutting room floor but as it stands his character is completely pointless and I’m not sure why they got a name actor to play such a useless role.
In fact, there are a few sub-plots that never really go anywhere. Natalie has one of those typical rom-com assholes as a co-worker who gives Kutcher the “I’m a doctor and you’re a loser and she’s gonna sleep with me” business. But then he never really does anything else. He never puts the moves on her or does something that would constitute a dick move. She comes on to him when drunk and then bails on him while he goes to get their coats. So in a way, you almost feel bad for him. If only he was willing to go jacket-less, dude could have slept with Natalie Portman. Maybe they wanted to play with our expectations by setting up these characters who would normally cock block our hero and generally be jackasses, only to not have them do anything of importance at all.
There’s another whole thing where Kutcher wants to be a writer….so he becomes one. There’s no struggle or obstacles. He writes a script, people like it, and he’s a writer. Yay? None of these aimless sub-plots necessarily make the movie bad, but they add up to filler that easily could have been removed to make for a tighter running time.
No Strings Attached is an above average comedy that is saved by the strength of its female lead and its supporting cast. The jokes land often enough, even if sometimes the raunch feels a little forced. It’s at the very least worth a rental, but I doubt you would find yourself too bummed out if you spent theatre money to see it.