Fri 21 Jan 2011
I’m going to write something I did not see coming at all: I didn’t hate “No Strings Attached”.
Now wait, before you start asking who this is and what I’ve done with Ian, hear me out. While I’m more known for fawning over melancholy and despondent tales of doomed relationships and crushed hearts, there are a handful of romantic films with happy endings that I simply adore. (Yes, there is a part of me somewhere that carries an emotion the dictionary defines as hope.)
As I’ve disclosed to some friends recently, I’m on the verge of Natalie Portman overload. Between the (mostly) deserved hype about “Black Swan” and the four films she’s got coming out in the first half of 2011 (including this one), her presence is just something I’m not sure I can handle in such quantities.
But like some amnesiatic sub-classification, it wasn’t long into the film that I found myself falling for Portman’s wiles. Ashton Kutcher still does about as much for me as a mild head cold but since his character was so one note, playing the tender hearted do-gooder trapped in a shell that the women in the film found attractive, I quickly stopped seeing him as anything real and moved on.
To its credit, the casting department filled the supporting roles with very funny and talented actors like Kevin Kline, Greta Gerwig, Olivia Thirlby, Lake Bell and Ludacris. Their inclusion helped to make the awful blandness of Kutcher fade for the most part, though some of their ‘jokes’ fell flatter than a steamrolled pancake no matter how hard they tried to sell it in their delivery.
And don’t worry, I’m not saying that enough ground was made up by Portman and the supporting cast for this film to earn a recommendation out of me. From the outset, the screenwriters apparently substituted easy vulgarity for an example of natural speech. I guess they figured that if this was going to get an R rating, why not make sure you earn it? However, what makes it worse is that the blue language and subject material isn’t fully consistent and comes off as cheap pandering for the most part.
Still, quite late in the film, I felt a bit lightheaded; wondering how I wasn’t absolutely hating what was up on screen. But then, at that pivotal moment when the two leads in a romantic comedy must shed their fears and profess their undying love, Kutcher and the script reared their collective head with the line: “If you come any closer, I’ll never let you go.” I just about threw up in my mouth … and not just a little bit – A LOT.
Why do so many romantic comedies have to sink to clichés and trite dialogue in order to resolve themselves? I understand that the large majority of audiences interested in such fare NEED a happy ending. Even I occasionally root for the happiness of the characters. However, we’re not stupid. Perfectly acceptable and positive conclusions can happen if the writer(s) don’t resort to the Rom-Com 101 thesaurus.
Continuing this incessant need to turn romance into a spectacle only fuels the unrealistic expectations of hopeful singles and exasperates those in relationships that haven’t quite reached a comfortable equilibrium, where doing everything a bit more low key is okay because it isn’t about the over-the-top act, but the relationship itself.
I know … I digressed. Sorry about that.
Bottom line, hopeless romantics who fall for lines so sugary they should come with a physician’s warning will find what they want here. Portman’s adorable vulnerability strikes again and the supporting cast was well chosen. However, in the midst of wondering how it was that I got sucked into any portion of the film, the ending slapped me back into reality and ruined most of the goodwill built up to that point. As such, “No Strings Attached” gets a 2 out of 5. It could have been a billion times worse (and I expected such) but it also could have been something far more palatable with a few more passes at the script.