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Saturday, February 19, 2011

No Strings Attached

Carrots: because she hates flowers.

This is a film that assumes the idiocy of its characters. Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman play two friends, complete with benefits, that - over the course of familiar plot devices, and a whopping deus ex machina - fall in love. Of course, that ruins the friendship, and the entire premise of the film. We're posed the question as follows: can two friends have regular and meaningless sex and not develop feelings for each other? 

Of course they can. But, that doesn't leave us with much of a movie. 

More after the cut --

Kutcher, a TV producer, and Portman, a doctor, meet when they are young and a summer camp. He tries to sleep with her, and she says no. Years later, they meet again at a frat party. They do not sleep together. And again, years later, at a swap meet type event, and hit it off. Over the course of the next five or so minutes, our film is put firmly into place. There's something to be said about the lack of characterization that unfolds in front of us. Randomly, Portman's character is sexually liberated and able to conduct an affair with no emotional attachment. Kutcher, painted early on to be a romantic, is able to do the same. These characters don't fit the mold of the film. Their best friends do, however, as played by Greta Gerwig and Ludacris. 

The movie is funny, and that's what it is supposed to be. It never claims to be an examination of the human sexual condition, nor does it claim to be a psychological study in any way. It is a role reversal romantic comedy that doesn't emasculate its male star, which is impressive. But, it does make him a sap. Which, in turn, makes her cold hearted and - ultimately - stale. Kind of like the film itself. The jokes work, but there isn't any substance behind them. 

There are obnoxious subplots involving former girlfriends, temptation, parents, weddings, etc. But, none of these subplots are as interesting as the main story. A subplot should be able to justify its existence as a mini-film inside of a feature film. They, instead, between "scene bridges" to get us from A to B. So, while we may be interested with the actual story, we're going to suffer through Kevin Kline's glorified cameo and Olivia Thirlby's too-cool-for-school younger sister/bride. Two actors I love doing things I could not care less about.

What we're left with is an enjoyable film with attractive stars who have a lot of sex. For about two hours. That's always watchable, even if it isn't good. But, when the film here tries to expand beyond its basic premise to become a dated Hollywood romantic comedy rather than an edgy sex comedy. Still, though, we can at least latch on to Natalie Portman's performance - excellent comedic timing, natural dramatic poise, and effortless sexiness that carries the movie through.