by Mel Valentin
Ivan Reitman, best known as the director of "Ghostbusters 1 and 2" (the hoped for second sequel, the aptly, if unimaginatively titled "Ghostbusters 3") has yet to materialize) and, among others ("Legal Eagles," "Stripes," "Meatballs"), two of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lesser forays into comedy, "Junior" and "Kindergarten Cop," directed only two films (he’s never directed a non-comedy) in the last decade, "Evolution" in 2001 and "My Super Ex-Girlfriend" five years later (both bombed). Since then, he’s been relatively content to produce, including son Jason’s last film, "Up in the Air." "No Strings Attached," Reitman’s return to directing and his first R-rated comedy in two decades, promises to illuminate 21st-century romantic relationships (of the heterosexual kind), but ultimately to offer anything new thematically or dramatically.Originally titled F*ckbuddies (a title that practically guarantees an R-rating on its own) before Reitman’s involvement as director and producer, No Strings Attached focuses on Adam Franklin (Ashton Kutcher), a wannabe-writer who works as an assistant on a Glee-inspired TV show, and Emma Kurtzman (Natalie Portman), a newly minted doctor completing her residency at an LA-area teaching hospital. Adam and Emma have crossed paths several times, first at a summer camp for teens, later as college students at a frat party, a third time in an LA-farmer’s market in their mid-twenties and finally a year later. Newly single, the heartbroken Adam makes a play for Emma. She’s not interested, however, in a long-term or even monogamous relationship; she just wants to be “sex friends” or “friends with benefits.” Adam agrees, but in a role reversal, Adam’s the one in the “no strings attached” relationship who wants a committed relationship.
"A rom-com by any other name is still a rom-com."
Adam’s friends, Eli (Jake M. Johnson) and Wallace (Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges), the obligatory best male friends typically found in romantic comedies, are all for “no strings attached” sex. Despite that, Eli has a longstanding crush on Emma’s friend, roommate, and fellow resident, Patrice (Greta Gerwig). Rounding out the rom-com clichés, Emma counts among her friends a sassy woman of color, Shira (Mindy Kaling), who speaks bluntly about sex, and Guy (Guy Branum), roommate, resident, and gay BFF. Additional, but by no means necessary, subplots include Adam’s father, Alvin (Kevin Kline), a one-time TV star now dating Adam’s vapid, materialistic ex-girlfriend, Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond), Lucy (Lake Bell), a shy, senior TV writer on the Glee-like show with a mad crush on Adam, and Katie (Olivia Thirlby), Emma’s about-to-be-married younger sister, Katie (Olivia Thirlby), who functions primarily to remind Emma and the audience that a committed romantic relationship is essential to personal fulfillment (professional fulfillment runs a distant second).
For all its R-rated raunch, including one or two moments that could be fairly described as shocking, however briefly, to jaded and non-jaded moviegoers alike, No Strings Attached takes all of 35-45 minutes before devolving into an unimaginative, by-the-numbers romantic comedy with the usual misunderstandings, crossed signals, and predictable complications typical of the genre, up to and including the obligatory penultimate scene involving one character finally expressing his or her true feelings about the other before “it’s too late” (it’s never too late, of course), leading, again predictably, to an uncritical affirmation of wedded or non-wedded, but monogamous, heterosexual bliss between the two, modestly ill-starred, (thankfully, for them, if not for us) financially secure lovers.At one point, Elizabeth Meriwether’s screenplay (under the original title) was considered one of Hollywood’s best unproduced scripts, making the yearly Black List. Reitman’s involvement, however, suggests Meriwether’s script underwent significant changes to bring it into line with more conventional, less risky romantic comedies. Whatever happened between the original screenplay and the film Reitman made, the final result is nothing if not disappointing. At best, "No Strings Attached" proves to be a mildly engaging diversion thanks, in large part, to the cast, including, surprisingly enough, Ashton Kutcher. While Kutcher’s firmly working within his comfort zone (he’s made half a dozen rom-coms in the last decade), he’s more than adequate in capturing Adam’s slightly troubled inner life. Portman handles her work-obsessed character with the expected professionalism (likewise with the rest of the cast).
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originally posted: 01/21/11 11:00:00