Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Movie Review: No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached ** ½
Directed by:
Ivan Reitman.
Written By: Elizabeth Meriwether and Mike Samonek
Starring: Natalie Portman (Emma), Ashton Kutcher (Adam), Kevin Kline (Alvin), Greta Gerwig (Patrice), Lake Bell (Lucy), Olivia Thirlby (Katie), Ludris (Wallace), Jake M. Johnson (Eli), Cary Elwes (Dr. Metzner), Mindy Kaling (Shira), Talia Balsam (Sandra Kurtzman), Ophelia Lovibond (Vanessa).

Romantic comedies have been around pretty much since the beginning of cinema history - and for the most part they really haven’t changed very much. They all have the same basic outline - boy meets girl, they fight, they argue, they fall in love; they break up and then get back together in the films final scene. Given this basic outline, the success or failure of romantic comedies mainly rests on the chemistry between the two leads, and whether or not the screenplay gives them anything interesting to say to each other. No Strings Attached achieves part of that goal - it is marginally more clever and funny than most recent entries in the genre, and the actors although they initially appear to be a mismatch, actually work fairly well together. And yet, it still left me wanting a little bit more.

The movie stars Natalie Portman as Emma, a driven young woman on her way to becoming a doctor, and Ashton Kutcher as Adam, the son of a sitcom star (Kevin Kline) who wants to be a writer, but so far just works as an assistant on a low rent TV version of high school musical. They meet at various times throughout a 10 year period, and laugh and flirt, but never really go anywhere. Then they find themselves in the same city, and once again begin to flirt. Emma doesn’t want a relationship, and Adam has just gotten out of one, so when she suggests that they become nothing more than friends with benefits, he agrees. Of course, he starts to feel more for her, and so does she, although she will not admit it. They need this complication, because in the third act, something needs to separate the two people we know are destined for each other. Nothing has really changed.

Initially I was unsure of the pairing of Natalie Portman, one of the best actresses of her generation who has never really made a romantic comedy before, and Ashton Kutcher, who essentially plays the same dorky, charming character in every movie. Surprisingly though, they fit together. Portman proves herself a natural at handling a romantic comedy - being lovable, sexy and funny in equal doses. Unlike other more serious actresses who try their hand at comedy, she proves to be a natural here. True, I would rather see her do more movies like Black Swan, yet I realize those types of roles are few and far between, and since she brings an intelligence to her role here, I won’t complain too much. Kutcher is an actor who is capable at doing romantic comedies, assuming he is given a decent role to play, and he doesn’t try too hard. Whether it’s Portman, or director Ivan Reitman (a natural at comedy direction) who reins him in, it works. The screenplay has a few good one liners in it, and is generally quite enjoyable in terms of its dialogue. The supporting cast is fine, but never really become characters - they fit nicely into the typical supportive friends you see in romantic comedies.

No Strings Attached is a fine example of its genre - but at the end of the day, I guess I just don’t find the genre all that enjoyable anymore. Like most films in the genre, No Strings Attached appears to be simply going through the motions - and while those motions can be enjoyable at times, walking out of the theater, I wasn’t really satisfied - I wanted more ambition, more humor, more romance, and No Strings Attached simply does not deliver.

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