When Natalie Portman stars in a movie, it’s an immediate attention grabber. Aside from being an extremely talented actress, she’s also one of the most adorable people on the planet. Considering she just gave her best performance in Black Swan, which has already snatched up multiple awards from the likes of the Golden Globes and film critic organizations everywhere, it’s a shame to see her star in No Strings Attached opposite Ashton Kutcher. She is so good, so radiant, so warm and so funny that you can’t help but wish she had a stronger and more charismatic co-star, one that would make her shine in ways other than in comparison.
It’s not so much that Kutcher is bad; he just doesn’t have the acting chops to convincingly stand alongside Portman. Despite emitting charm in last year’s underrated Valentine’s Day, he is stiff here, perhaps because his character isn’t written as overly likable like in that holiday themed movie. That person was perhaps too optimistic for his own good, but it was that optimism about love that managed to touch me. In No Strings Attached, his character is written to be more three dimensional, but the problem is Kutcher couldn’t be flatter if you drove over him with a steamroller.
His character in question is named Adam. Ever since meeting Emma at Camp Weehawken when he was a teenager, he hasn’t forgotten her. After running into her in the present day, they hit it off and end up sleeping with each other. However, Emma considers herself too busy to have a relationship and suggests being friends who have sex with “no strings attached.” Adam agrees, but quickly finds himself falling for her. Emma believes that “people aren’t meant to be together forever,” but she may find herself changing her tune as she spends more time with Adam.
And if you’ve ever seen a romantic comedy (spoilers!), you know she does. No Strings Attached is, expectedly, predictable. So often is that the case these days that critics have to redefine the way they watch rom-coms. If we were to write one off simply because it followed formula, we’d hate everything released. What matters in most cases is how authentic the chemistry is and how much laughter it produces. To go into why the chemistry is off would be redundant considering how I’ve already expressed my dislike in Kutcher, so what’s left is how often the laughs work.
When it comes to its comedy, No Strings Attached is a rare breed. It doesn’t do anything unique, mind you; it’s just insanely inconsistent. Sometimes the jokes land with a bang and other times the film misses comedic beats by a mile. To blame those failures on individual aspects like delivery, editing or writing would be fruitless because they all contribute at various times in their own special ways. Outdated and unfunny references to things like High School Musical and Beverly Hills, 90210 only help in making this movie feel even lazier.
As per usual, the dilemmas all arise from misunderstandings and contrived happenstances. In one scene midway through the movie, a soon-to-be doctor who had barely said a word up to that point and whose personality had not been established, suddenly lashes out at Adam and becomes his romantic villain, only to eventually be forgotten. It’s things like this that helped tip the movie over and force it to tumble. As it neared its end, No Strings Attached was hanging by a thread and my interest was long gone, but it wasn't until Kutcher and Portman spoke their ham-fisted final words to each other that the thread was cut and the movie finally lived up to its title.
No Strings Attached receives 2/5