January 21, 2011

No Strings Attached: The Movie I Wanted To Hate or Why I Like An Ashton Kutcher Movie

I have consciously not seen any movie with Ashton Kutcher in it since Dude Where's My Car (how do you follow that film?). But curiosity got the best of me and I found myself at a No Strings Attached screening. I am not the desired demo for romantic comedies just by the fact that I'm a guy, and my expectations were low. The trailers didn’t look that good and Ivan Reitman’s last film, My Super Ex-Girlfriend was DOA . Natalie Portman’s streak of good movie roles had to end sometime and I feared this could be her Norbit. I felt No Strings Attached already had a few strikes against it and when you add Ashton Kutcher, well, that’s just the frosting on top of the crap cake. I was more than ready to hate this movie. Well I have to tell you, nobody is more surprised than I am to find out that I liked it.

Now, before you go and revoke my “man card” I can totally defend myself. It may not be an amazing cinematic feat, but as far as romantic comedies go and as far as date movies go, this film is well worth the price of admission. No Strings Attached is surprisingly clever and nuanced. Elizabeth Meriwether’s script is intelligent and insightful. Characters in the movie react and respond like real people. The humor is not dumbed down or meant to gross out and shock. There are a few of jokes that try for that “I’m laughing because I’m uncomfortable” moment but they are few and far between and are completely abandoned in the second half of the movie. It was nice to have Ivan Reitman back in good directing form. I also enjoyed seeing Los Angeles thoughtfully portrayed on film, much like two other recent LA-centric films500 Days of Summer and Greenberg. L.A. is the backdrop to a lot of movies but for someone like me who lives in L.A. you realize very few films are able to capture the essence of the city and strangely No Strings Attached does.

The plot revolves around a guy (Ashton) and girl (Natalie Portman) having a strictly physical relationship, a friends with benefits routine minus the stress and drama a standard relationship entails. Of course things get complicated, Ashton starts to have feelings for Natalie (Shocker!) and their sex utopia is threatened. Recent Golden Globe winnerNatalie Portman does an expectantly great job playing an emotionally stunted workaholic but I was most surprised by the supporting cast. I found myself wanting more scenes with the hilarious Mindy Kaling, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwig and Jake Johnson (who I would bet cash-money is somehow related to David Krumholtz). There are also appearances by Chris 'Ludacris' Bridges and Carey Elwes and it is rather enjoyable to have Luda and Westly from The Princess Bride in the same film. Kevin Kline turns up as Ashton’s aging TV star dad. Didn’t know he was in the movie did you? It would have been nice to know he was in the movie, especially since everybody and their dog loves Kevin Kline. He is the master at being hilarious and charismatic even when his character is a complete ass. Here is some advice for Hollywood: I don’t care how old Kevin Kline is, put him in the damn trailer.

Ashton does a fine job in the film because he falls into a category of what I like to call “The Keanu Effect.” The Keanu Effect is where an actor isn’t necessarily an accomplished thespian, but he also won’t make an already good movie any worse. Ashton can’t make a bad movie better either, but he doesn’t bring No Strings Attached down. During the sex scenes I did have a few “Why is she with him?” moments, which I bet is what most women must have been thinking during Knocked Up.

For a very sex centered movie it doesn’t have enough sex in it. There is a generic sex montage early on in the film but it is definitely not enough. If the movie’s plot is about two “sex friends” doing it, it should have had more “doing it.” No matter how cringe inducing the sight of Ashton and Natalie knockin' boots might be, the film’s title alone calls for more sex in the movie.

My advice? Go see it. If I were you I would go see it with a friend you want to have sex with. It’s worth a shot.

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