Skip to content

No Strings Attached (2011)

January 21, 2011

written by: Elizabeth Meriwether (screenplay/story) and  Mike Samonek (story)
produced by: Ivan Reitman, Joe Medjuck & Jeffrey Clifford
directed by: Ivan Reitman
rated R for sexual content, language and some drug material.
110 min.
U.S. release date: January 21, 2011
Here comes the expected January rom-com (remember? “When in Rome”, came out same time, last year?) which finds an Oscar-nominated actress taking a first-time shot at a tired genre with an actor well-known for mediocre (at best) comedy. Can such an imbalance of converged talent make for a rom-com that could rise above the awful dreck audiences are offered throughout the year? The short answer is: Almost. If you hadn’t already seen the poster or trailer for “No Strings Attached”, it may sound like a modern re-telling of the classic Pinocchio tale. That would’ve been more interesting than what we have here. 
As it stands, the title is misleading, since the two leads here do have strings attached, the kind that are attached to a formulaic puppet master who has long-lost his groove. That would be producer and director Ivan Reitman, who has made some comedy classics in  “Stripes”, “Ghostbusters” and “Kindergarten Cop” and then comedy casualties like “Evolution” and “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”.  While his latest movie leaves me quite pessimistic for  the future of “Ghostbusters 3”, it does fare slightly better than the typical rom-coms, but then again that doesn’t take much, or maybe it does.

We first meet Adam and Emma as young children at a summer camp that looks like make-out camp. Literally, the camera pans through several pubescent couples playing tonsil hockey under the stars. But these two kids sit next to each other, forming a bond through their awkwardness. That is, until he asks if he could feel her up. Ugh, that set the unnecessarily lewd tone for me right there. I’m no prude, but how do we off something like that? We know we’ll be seeing these two kids as adults, so maybe showing some kind of evident sweetness might help to give them a background to draw upon later. Not a chance, it just tells us that Reitman is slicing into “American Pie” type humor.  Little does he know (or care) that it’s the kind of humor that has been countlessly recycled.


Years later, we meet Adam and Emma who now look like Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, respectively. They Meet Cute at some campus party. She notices him first and for reasons unexplained, is compelled to approach this fraternizing buffoon. Of course, he needs to be reminded who she is. Sigh, some girls never get a hint, but hey, it is Ashton Kutcher and he’s dreamy, right girls? Aw yeah.  
More years later, the two Meet Cute again. They have to, right? They’ve both settled in L.A. (imagine that) she a doctor-in-training and he a production assistant and wanna-be writer for a “Glee” ripoff. As much as the two have eyed each other over the years, they have avoided starting anything serious. Even though there is obvious physical attraction (I’m not talking chemistry here, there is a difference), the two remain buddies, which disappoints Adam. In a rare depiction of a rom-com male lead, the guy is actually the touchy-feely type with a soppy middle. That doesn’t make Kutcher, with his vacant expressions and one-note emotes, any more accessible, but still, it’s a change.  
Working off this variation of conventions, it is Emma who proposes they elevate their friendship to “strictly bedroom” status. Just sex. But there are rules: no cuddling, no spooning, no morning-after lingering, and the like. Basically, just carnal delights. No real connections. Despite being a sensitive and emotional guy, Adam is still “a guy” and agrees to this. And hilarity ensueth as we see a musical montage of various quickies, showing only Kutcher’s heiny. So, what’s going to happen? Will hard-hearted Emma relent and give in to an actual relationship? Can Adam keep up such a shallow cycle? I trust you, dear reader, to come to your own conclusion. Just remember this is a Hollywood rom-com, after all.
First-time screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether has made a name for herself as a playwright, and here she skips any First Act that would connect viewers to these characters. She looks to shock us rather than win us over with any needed depth. Just like the two lead characters who forego foreplay altogether, Merriwether wastes no time crudely trying to wow us. Somehow seeing these actors drop F-bombs all over the screen seems like the right thing to do. It’s a cheap way to grab our attention, rather than allowing a character to just develop. That’s not the fault of any of the actors, it’s in the script which is filled with stock sitcom lines.
While the limp dialogue reeks of cliché, problems can be found in some glaringly painful sequences as well. Like the scene where Emma, her girlfriends and their stereotypically flamboyant gay friend are all lazing around their apartment, groaning because they’re all on the same menstrual cycle. Oh we feel so bad for them. Come on, right? We’ve all been there, girlfriends. So what does Adam do to ease Emma’s pain? He makes her a “period” mix CD, with songs that have blood in the title and it’s really sweet. Right? Awww….
As usual, Portman is a delight to watch and the audience follows along, curious to see her trying out new territory. Her endearing cuteness combined with a fun one-of-the-guys personality eventually succumbs to predictable nonsense. Emma coming to her senses and running to Adam before she loses him, is expected, unoriginal and unsurprising. As for Kutcher, this guy’s got this schtick down so well, he can coast through the whole movie on auto-pilot. He’s so limited, he might as well. But, the boy has a following and all the girls will flock to see come opening weekend.
The supporting characters in these movies typically consist of two groups of people, her side and his side. There’s generally some family and some friends, maybe some exes. Looking at both sides, I have to say, the girls come out on top. Adam has a token black friend in Wallace (Ludacris) and a token sex-obsessed friend in Eli (Jack M. Johnson), who has two stereotypically flamboyant gay parents. Sadly, both these friends are written like the same guy friends you’d see in any rom-com. I was delighted to see Kevin Kline play Adam’s former sitcom star father, who’s latent middle-age crisis finds him dating his son’s ex-girlfriend and smoking a copious amount of doobage. Even his role seemed to be a bit played-out. There’s also the talented yet sadly underused Lake Bell who plays Adam’s co-worker with an overemphasized neurosis.
Blink twice and you’ll miss a bizarro walk-on part by a shaggy-bearded Cary Elwes (literally, he’s just walking around the hospital in a lab coat and clipboard). At one point, it seemed like he might be an object of attraction for Emma or maybe he was “the cute doctor” that all the interns pine over. I dunno. It remains unclear what his function was.
The other ladies surrounding Portman are real standouts, and it’s a welcome surprise. Olivia Thrilby (“Juno”) is so happy as Emma’s younger sister, content with her engagement and thus her opposite. Emma’s two roommates and fellow interns, played by Greta Gerwig (“Greenberg”) and Mindy Kaling (“The Office”) both feel like real people who could be true friends. Maybe Meriwether just had an easier time realizing these characters, it seemed evident because I found myself wanted to hang out more with them than Emma.  
So, this winds up being an odd picture. It’s not nearly as awful as I expected it to be, considering its genre and what month its being released in. The film asks the age-old question, if friends can just have sex and not get involved, yet we’re not even able to get involved with anyone we see on-screen. Ultimately this movie wants to be a bawdy sexy romp and also wants to be a sweet soul mate flick. But between the screenplay and Reitman’s clichéd delivery, “No Strings Attached” doesn’t give us really anything to attach ourselves to.  




3 Comments leave one →
  1. mATtHEw gRAmItH permalink
    January 21, 2011 10:46 am

    Every time I see that trailer I feel as if I’ve seen the whole movie.

    • David J. Fowlie permalink*
      January 21, 2011 5:08 pm

      I think that could be said for every big studio trailer, especially the rom-coms.


  1. New on DVD & Bluray (05-10-11) « Keeping It Reel

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: