3 March 2011


Natalie Portman has Thor and Your Highness lined up this year, so it's a more promising slate than any Best Actress winner of recent years has had after picking up a little golden bloke. Charlize Theron was in Hancock, Halle Berry was in Catwoman, and Sandra Bullock appears to have disappeared off the face of the Earth. But in the same weekend as Portman won, we got No Strings Attached. Er, can you give that Oscar back, please?

Ashton Kutcher plays Adam, an all-round nice guy who's unfortunately discovered that his TV star dad is boning his ex-girlfriend. Portman serves as executive producer here, and also stars as Emma, an old friend who becomes Adam's friend with benefits after he goes on a self-destructive drunken bender to try and find himself a woman. The terms of their relationship are firmly set out- it's just about the sex and there should be no emotional attachment. But then...!

Yeah, you can probably see how this one's going to pan out from the scant synopsis provided. Hell, you can probably tell from the poster. Fuck, even the trailer has some pretty reliable pointers. The most annoying thing about repetitive romcoms, or repetitive horrors, or repetitive films of any genre, is that my subsequent reviews become repetitive as well. For generic and formulaic filmmaking, No Strings Attached isn't as bad as either The Rite or I Am Number Four, but it remains that all three of these films came out last Friday.

My main bugbear with the film is that it's masquerading as a more offbeat and grown-up romcom, but a 15 certificate for strong language and a prurient fixation does not make a grown-up romcom. And you could never really call it off-beat because ultimately, it doth protest too much. Yeah, sex exists in this, unlike in 12A rated, Katherine Heigl-starring, lowest common denominator tosh. Yeah, there's what you might call an unconventional attitude to romance for a film with these stars and of this type. Yeah, you have to look at Kutcher's bare arse at one point.

These are all things that you don't see in your garden-variety romcom, but at the same time, it's too safe, and too conventional. Even though the terms of a sex-only arrangement are perfectly clear, everyone still winds up adhering to social norms, like wanting to get married and find a soulmate. It's more cheeky than risqué, and not really sexy at all. But it's precisely because it's a film with these stars and a film of this type that it can't stray too far from the beaten path. It's weird, because Portman can only be seen as sort of miscast in this one. There are happy-go-lucky moments that seem so forced when she's acting them that they're destined for scary slo-mo edits in the future.

It's real nightmare fuel at times, and Emma's interactions with Adam gradually make her seem at least 70% as neurotic as Portman's character in Black Swan. Just don't expect her to pick up an Oscar for this one. Kutcher is entirely within his comfort zone, because he always plays the guy who's kind of a player, but not in a way that's threatening. In these films, he's always that guy who women want to screw and men don't mind hanging around with, him being so cool and whatnot. The only room for variation seems to be how annoying he is while doing that, and to his credit, that's dialled way down here, compared to something like Killers.

The rest of the casting is a little strange too. I spent quite a lot of time thinking that Emma's boss, a bearded and fuzzy looking doctor, reminded me of Cary Elwes. And then it turned out he was played by Cary Elwes. It's such a negligible role that you wonder what ever attracted him to it. Kevin Kline plays Adam's dad and just seems pretty happy to be back on the big screen being funny again- I like Kline, and don't begrudge him for making me chuckle in this one.

Ophelia Lovibond, so promising in, somehow sounds like an American actress doing a bad British accent when she is in fact British- it's almost like she was directed that way. Greta Gerwig and Olivia Thirlby are more interesting and more natural than the leading lady's character, and if this is beginning to sound like a big cast, that's because it is. So big, in fact, that we get the dreaded credits montage that shows what happened to everyone after Adam and Emma's thread was wrapped up. It's an excruciating footnote- from now on, let's end these films when the credits begin, eh?

No Strings Attached is a romcom that is more like than unlike, and it's too familiar to really distinguish it as its own beast. It made me laugh a couple of times, but not nearly enough. In the weekend of its release, its leads won awards- Portman got Best Actress at the Oscars of course, but Ashton Kutcher picked up Worst Actor at the Golden Raspberries. The former cannot elevate the latter, because she's completely out of her element in this territory. And in any case, it's a film that shows his nipples and not hers- Love and Other Drugs broke more taboos than this pretender.

No Strings Attached is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen No Strings Attached, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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