It’s nice to be nice – No Strings Attached review

No Strings Attached – Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher and Kevin Kline. Directed by Ivan Reitman. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Sometimes it’s just enjoyable to watch a movie where all the characters are nice; to spend ninety minutes with a bunch of people who are smart, funny, amiable and kind to one another. The premise of Ivan Reitman’s No Strings Attached – two buds agree to a mutually beneficial casual sex contract – implies a clichéd, debauched, misogynistic, anti-humanist, faux-love story a’la The Ugly Truth. Although it doesn’t quite avoid the ‘clichéd’ tag, it most certainly sidesteps all those other hallmarks of recent rom-coms. In fact, it is probably the closest any comedy in recent memory – not produced by Judd Apatow – has come to successfully fusing crass humour with genuine heart. (Side note: Let’s just take a moment to consider where we stand as a society that a comedy can earn points for having ‘nice’ characters. How evil must every other rom-com be that I feel overwhelmingly charmed by a movie about people that are friendly to one another? Anyway…)

Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher star as the aforementioned buds Emma and Adam. They met as teenagers on summer camp, ran into each other ten years later at a college party, and then once again closer to the events of the film at an outdoor market. Now, as adults, she’s a hard-working medical resident, and he’s a hopeful screenwriter working on a Glee-type show (“about high schoolers who sing and dance and blog”). One evening, after his former TV-star father (Kevin Kline) reveals that he is now dating his ex-girlfriend, Adam calls every former fling on his phone’s contact list hoping for a one-night-stand. He ends up in the bed of Emma, and the two decide to become “friends with benefits”, with the caveat that they end their arrangement once either of them starts to feel “something more”. If you need to be told what happens next, I seriously cannot help you.

The problem with so many romantic-comedies is that they are locked into these strict formulas; no one is ever interested in trying something bold or new. I’m not saying No Strings Attached breaks the mould – in fact, its fatal flaw is that it does conform to the genres most tired tropes. But it does avoid a few of the more annoying recurrences. For instance, there is no second-act fight based on a wacky misunderstanding; no evil supporting character who tries to shoehorn their way between the star-crossed lovers; no public declarations of love at a party, or worse, a wedding. Each of these scenarios are hinted at (or rather, ‘threatened’) but none executed. Instead, we get to watch Emma and Adam’s relationship flourish, flounder and then (spoiler alert?) be fruitful once more. They are not forced to act upon their feelings by outside forces (there is no impending nuptials between Emma and an unfaithful jerk that Adam has to interrupt; no overseas journey that requires either one to run to the airport and keep the other from boarding a plane). In their own time, over weeks and months, the duo’s feelings evolve, and they come to understand that while the ‘no strings attached’ arrangement may work best for their busy schedules, it just isn’t enough to keep them happy. It’s not a case of, “only people in committed relationships can be happy”; it’s a case of, “there’s nothing worse than having an unemotional relationship with the person you care about most”.

At the best of times, Natalie Portman can come across as wooden (excluding, of course, Brothers and Black Swan), but she is genuinely appealing here, and is quite clearly having a lot of fun (we’ve not seen her this happy and loose since she rapped on Saturday Night Live back in ’06). And Ashton Kutcher, believe it or not, is genuinely charming and likable as the big-hearted Adam. No longer playing the annoying doofus or the suave lady-killer, he finally finds his niche. Their relationship does not exist in a bubble (another failing of recent rom-coms). Their universe is populated by a fine supporting cast; they’re each playing characters, who are each living their own lives. Best of all are the great Greta Gerwig and Jake M. Johnson as Emma and Adam’s besties (in a truly just world, they would be the leads). They’re joined by the hilarious Lake Bell (as a nervy co-worker/admirer of Adam), Mindy Kaling (as another of Emma’s pals) and Olivia Thirlby (as her soon-to-be-married sis). And what really needs to be said about the too-often-absent-from-the-cinema Kevin Kline, who kills merely by pronouncing the name “Lil Wayne” in his elegant cadence.

Ivan Reitman, who could have retired 20 years ago and rested on the laurels of directing a couple of the most beloved comedies in history, hasn’t helmed a film since the disastrous 2006 flick My Super Ex-Girlfriend. His direction here, although unremarkable, perfectly complements his supporting cast (comprised of expert improvisers). Don’t assume Judd Apatow is the only guy who knows how to get his players to think on their feet; remember that Reitman worked with Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis in their heyday. Elizabeth Meriwether’s screenplay (originally titled F*ckbuddies, which – although awesome – considering the innocent nature of the film is actually kind of inappropriate) gets the job done, and should be applauded for mostly avoiding cliché. The occasional moments of raunch seem a little out of place in this sweet-natured film; any swear words and references to drugs seem practically quaint. The sex scenes are absolutely necessary though (people this pretty deserve to be filmed going at it). She is responsible however for a climactic line that will go in the record books alongside “Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed?” and “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her” as one of the all-time worst rom-com lines. The fact that it is delivered by a crying Ashton Kutcher doesn’t help. I won’t spoil it here. It really has to be seen to be believed. The good news is that it’s book-ended by a genuinely enjoyable film.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

No Strings Attached opens across Australia February 10, 2011.

One Response to “It’s nice to be nice – No Strings Attached review”

  1. >the post is good. It is a fun movie to watch..

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