No Strings Attached
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Olivia Thirlby, Chris ‘Ludacris’ Bridges, Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling
Release date: January 21, 2011
Boy and girl are sitting on a bench underneath the moonlight, probably at some middle school dance or summer camp. They are taking a break from whatever festivity it is that they are attending. The boy looks fairly shy and nervous, anxious to get to a certain point. The girl is more opened it seems. She’s possibly thinking that the boy is going to ask for a kiss. Or maybe he will even act hastily and sneak one. This is such a wonderful set-up that evokes the impulses and feelings we feel at the ripe age of fourteen. But my naiveté works against me here. What wishful thinking on my behalf! What comes out of the boy’s mouth (a question that is usually asked to a prostitute) is well beyond his age and his image. And the girl, disturbingly, remains composed at the question. Can it be that he is addicted to sexual acts at this stage of his life and she desensitized by such pleads? What a demoralizing thought. But my senses should have been more alert for the dialogue used by these two kids. Hell, why should American comedy hold back any thing? Crude is what American comedy does best. And this is 2011, so we should come to expect this kind of humor, vulgarity, cheapness, and conventionality.
The two meet again 10 years later at a college party rife with the traditional characteristics of any college party caught on celluloid. Her name is Emma (Natalie Portman) and his Adam (Ashton Kutcher). She is a student at MIT who is visiting her college friend in Michigan. Adam locks eyes with her from across the room and tells her immediately that he likes her. She invites him to a funeral, referring to it as a “stupid thing” she has to attend. He agrees and the two hookup, in a scene that remains unseen, and they split ways again. Another year goes by, he has a girlfriend and she still single, and again they run into each other. Man, are these two destined for one another. Portman and Kutcher, though, are a likable pair, and prove to be a somewhat believable couple who would mingle in sexual affairs.
All of this, as confusing and time-consuming as it seems, is all played out within the first 10 minutes of the film. Director Ivan Reitman, who was once a revered director during the 1980s with Stripes and Ghostbusters, manages to capture the sexual obsession of numerous of other comedies, as well as the boatload of friends the boy and girl each has. He endows his main characters with knowledge that only pertains to sex and alcohol. Their aspirations are limited to those things as well. The minor characters are blessed with conventional ideas of stock characters (Ludacris, Greta Gerwig, and Mindy Kaling). But Reitman’s one original idea is that he allows the female to be consumed with sex while the male is opened to a sufficient relationship.
In the film’s ordinary time Emma and Adam, after having sex with each other countless times, want to keep their relationship (is relationship even the proper word?) limited to only sex. That is it. Have tons of sex with the hope of not becoming affectionate with the person you’re having sex with. They both consent to this relationship; one where there could be no strings attached at all. In a relationship lacking candlelit dinners, romance, chocolates, and intimate conversations, sex becomes the natural stimulant. But why? Adam is rich, handsome, and funny. No girl would find the ability put off a relationship with him. He shows no signs of ignoring a potentially legitimate relationship with Emma. Maybe it is because his ex-girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) is now dating his father (Kevin Kline). As Adam proves to be ready to settle it is Emma who is hindering any possibility of a romantic future.
Emma by this is evidently psychologically disturbed. Her neglecting any form of intimacy and long-term happiness with Adam is never discussed. And it is to our detriment. Maybe Reitman believes her problem is beyond his direction or beyond the film’s capacity to acknowledge it. This film isn’t capable of dissecting her problem. Portman realizes this and coasts along, offering no substantial insight into her character as she did so well in Black Swan. The script by Elizabeth Meriwether fights off any notions of thinking while indulging in the morally deplorable. And no one involved in the film expresses any concern, permitting its characters to succumb to an immoral state. Emma and Adam inhabit a world where no sense of relationship exists. No one aspires to attain anything sacred.
No Strings Attached is an insignificant film with an insignificant theme. Ivan Reitman, who sinks into abashment here as he tries to emulate his son Jason’s sophisticated romantic comedies, has no problem in crafting a skillfully inept film that is devoid of any sensuality and renders itself proportionally distasteful within its first ten minutes.
Rating: *1/2 out of *****