No Strings Attached Review

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Emma (Portman) and Adam (Kutcher) are 'friends with benefits'. But can their sex-only relationship survive when emotions are stirred and they both begin to yearn for something more fulfilling?


It is, of course, foolish to hark back to a simpler, more innocent time at the movies when the term ‘sex comedy’ meant something altogether different from what it does today. Back when Doris Day was a virgin and Rock Hudson was the epitome of lantern-jawed, all-American masculinity, the one thing you couldn’t talk about in a sex comedy — God forbid! — was sex. Consequently, they simmered with sexual tension; sly sparring and flirty badinage standing in for Percy Filth to mouthwatering effect.

In the current climate, such coyness would be laughable. Still, compare it to the opening scene of this, Ivan Reitman’s rather baffling foray into romantic comedy. An awkward encounter between two pre-teens, trying to get it together on the last night of summer camp, it’s a sweet little moment, steeped in nostalgia for the pangs of first love. It ends with the line, “Can I finger you?”

You laugh, reflexively, because the set-up is skilfully done (and kids talking trash is always funny, right?). But you also feel slightly queasy, and that’s the problem with the film as a whole: it’s funny, but it leaves you with a slightly bad taste in your mouth (and you can insert your own jokes there).

As high concepts go, it’s not a bad one, and not massively more predictable than most films born of a slick title. Emma (Natalie Portman) and Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are old friends who embark on a purely physical relationship that, since she’s an emotionally stunted career girl and he’s, well, a guy, initially suits them both. Trouble brews, however, when Emma falls through a rent in the time-space continuum and Adam’s pet coelacanth begins quoting Prou… No, wait. When inconvenient feelings intrude and they begin to wish for something more.

Kutcher’s an acquired taste at the best of times, but he’s on familiar ground here. Portman, on the other hand, is way out of her comfort zone and it shows. That said, they generate just enough heat for the purpose. And again, they aren’t the problem. The problem is the film’s desperate struggle for vulgar cred (another choice line: “At least I know my dad ain’t eating out my ex”). In the end it has much the same effect as its central concern: you might have fun, but you’ll go home feeling slightly dirty and oddly unsatisfied.

Not a bad premise, but material demanding a light touch is weighed down by a desperate desire to fit in, like a little kid swearing to impress the big boys.