No Strings Attached

Hold up a second– is this still January? Traditionally the month where studios send sub-par movies to die, it’s finally given us a film worth watching, and (gasp!) it stars Ashton Kutcher.

No Strings Attached plays like a Gen-Y mix of When Harry Met Sally… and American Pie— equal parts raunchy, hilarious, and charming. It’s as much a romantic comedy with a potty mouth as it is a ribald comedy with a heart.

Adam and Emma first met each other at summer camp as young teenagers. Now in their late-20s, he (Kutcher) is an assistant on a Glee-like TV show, and she (Natalie Portman) is a newbie doctor at the local teaching hospital. When they trip on each other for the first time in years, she invites him to her dad’s funeral, and he puts her in his cell phone address book. A year later, he drunk-dials her on a night of girlfriend-less self-loathing and ends up crashing at her place. Although he’s looking for a girlfriend, she’s just looking for… well, let’s just say she’s all about the physical.

They agree to give the ‘friends with benefits’ gig a try, promising never to cuddle, profess love for each other, or look at each other with puppy-dog eyes. They’re not dating, they’re screwing. And in a fun montage set to Elvis’ “Bossa Nova Baby”, they do just that. Over and over again. In closets, handicapped bathrooms, cars, and even, occasionally, in a bed. Of course, it’s not too long before Adam starts falling for Emma, and, as much as she’d like to deny it, she’s falling, too.

Even though the entire plot is telegraphed and obvious, No Strings Attached still works, primarily because of a clever script and great performances from Portman and the supporting cast (including Kevin Kline as Adam’s louse of a father, Greta Gerwig as Emma’s roomie Patrice, and Ludacris and Jake Johnson as Adam’s goofy buddies Wallace and Eli). First-timer Elizabeth Meriwether’s screenplay is full of hilarious little moments, but it also feels real and relatively true-to-life (…if you don’t count the fact that it’s not physically possible for two people to be that horny and that sleep-deprived and still survive.) Even when Meriwether slips into trite territory (including perhaps one of the cheesiest “closing’ lines in years), the rest of the script works so well that errors are forgiven instead of dwelled-upon.

Kutcher, for his part, actually holds his own. His comic timing is getting better, and Adam is a role tailor-made for him. There’s nothing too terribly demanding, and he’s allowed to just let his charm and cute smile carry the day. Portman (who’s gearing up to accept an Oscar for Black Swan in a matter of weeks) has much more to work with than Kutcher here, and she doesn’t disappoint. It’s obvious early-on that her real talent is not just the dazzling performance as Nina in Swan… it’s that she can go from that role to this one so effortlessly.

Ivan Reitman, directing his first film in 10 years (assuming you don’t count 2006’s disastrous My Super Ex-Girlfriend), seemed to have a ball putting No Strings Attached together, and he deftly dissolves from the goofy, comedic first half into the warm and tender(ish) second half without even blinking.

By the time Friends with Benefits (with Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis) hits theaters in July, the ‘sex friends’ plot might a little tired. For now, though, it’s just made January a little more tolerable.

3.5/5 stars