“No Strings Attached,” Natalie Portman’s follow-up to critical success “Black Swan,” is Hollywood’s most recent effort to make the romantic comedy original and interesting again. Although the film, the latest from director Ivan Reitman, stumbles with some clichés and a few cases of terrible dialogue, its clever one-liners and unique, hilarious supporting cast make it a strong effort and certainly a welcome break from the January movie doldrums.
The film revolves around Emma Kurtzman (Natalie Portman), a relationship-phobic doctor, and Adam Franklin (Ashton Kutcher), a carefree production assistant who dreams of becoming a screenwriter. After brief flashbacks to their run-ins at summer camp and college frat parties, the movie jumps to their mid-20s, when they meet again and attempt to form a casual, commitment-free relationship. Despite the movie’s title, it is clear from the beginning of the film that there is more to the pair’s relationship than sex, and that the “no strings attached” relationship could never actually last with them. Instead, the movie charts how their connection eventually turns into a real relationship, albeit with several bumps along the way.
As far as romantic comedies go, “No Strings Attached” is a breath of fresh air after a year of clichéd duds like “Killers” and “Valentine’s Day.” True, the movie does contain the classic, tired “run to tell that special someone you love them before it’s too late!” scene, and, despite its title, is a movie about an actual romantic relationship, not a strictly sexual one. Its set-up certainly does not break any boundaries. Still, the movie breaks free of typical romantic comedy barriers with a script that’s actually funny, open discussion of topics that used to be taboo territory in movies (Adam making Emma a “period playlist” that contains songs like “Bleeding Love” by Leona Lewis and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2 comes to mind) and strong acting, mainly by the supporting cast.
Although star Natalie Portman’s role as a romantic lead is startlingly different from her recent dramatic turn in thriller “Black Swan,” she proves she can hold her own in a romantic comedy as well. She lends wit and humanity to a character that in other similar films would be played straight as a career-focused, ice-cold stereotype. Ashton Kutcher follows her lead well as a hapless, down-on-his-luck romantic. Although the role is certainly not a stretch for Kutcher, his acting is still funny, charming and a perfect fit for the film.
The supporting cast steals the show with the movie’s funniest lines and most awkward moments. Kevin Kline shines as Adam’s father Alvin Franklin, a wealthy, spoiled actor who struggles to fit in with the younger generation. Lake Bell is hilarious as Lucy, a gloriously awkward co-worker of Adam’s who finds increasingly strange ways to communicate her love for him. Mindy Kaling (best known as Kelly from TV’s “The Office”) is hilarious as Shira, one of Emma’s fellow doctor friends and roommates.
The movie’s script is, for the most part, fantastic, featuring biting one-liners and some priceless moments. Adam’s work at a TV studio (which is filming, incidentally, a “High School Musical”-type series, providing hilarity in itself) and his interactions with his fellow coworkers provide some of the funniest scenes in the film, only bested by Adam’s father Alvin, who begins dating Adam’s ex-girlfriend, Vanessa (Ophelia Lovibond). The ensuing interactions between the old actor and his young girlfriend are comedic gold, culminating with Alvin going to the hospital after getting high on cough syrup.
However, the movie suffers from a few terrible, sappy lines, mostly on the part of Adam. Fortunately, the funnier lines in the rest of the movie are more than enough to make up for the few bad ones.
“No Strings Attached,” though not perfect, is a refreshing break from typical romantic comedies and the bleak January movie season. Although it is certainly not the groundbreaking examination of modern relationships it might have hoped to be, its hilarious script and supporting cast make it well worth a watch.