Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline
Part of me didn’t even want to take the time to write about this film, hence why I’m finally sitting down to do so more than two weeks after my initial theater venture. I can’t really blame myself for the apprehension, considering I wasn’t feeling bold enough to subject myself to yet another tepid, uneven and potentially grueling romantic comedy, yet Portman’s involvement was more than enough to coax me out the door opening day. No Strings Attached, while trudging through painstakingly familiar territory, managed to catch me off guard and prove that sensitivity can go a long way in overcoming some glaring faults that take an irreversibly detrimental effect on a film as a whole.
Ah, the glory of finding that one individual who willingly jumps into bed with you at the drop of a hat for the purpose of instant sexual gratification. Sure, you guys are friends, but wait! One of you begins to feel something more following your daily stint in the sack! Sound familiar? Of course it does, and that’s because the idea of “friends with benefits” has been making its rounds on the romantic comedy circuit for years and years. Reitman’s take on the topic, albeit unable to not conform to the clichés that often coincide with the formula (i.e. one half’s overwhelming apprehension toward commitment), manages to partially compensate for its faults thanks to a few minor creative flourishes.
The idea of tiptoeing around the inevitable is both a welcome and unwelcome surprise, considering the film’s absurd run time is a direct result of the script’s constant inability to commit to one particular course of action. Screenwriter Elizabeth Meriweather does manage to strike a barely functional balance between heartfelt romantic epiphanies and an abundance of sex humor, and Reitman’s appealingly sensitive direction assures the former are as honest as can be and not overshadowed by one of entirely too many sexual encounters (and Portman’s body).
Emotionally honest as it may be, nothing can really fix the fact that No Strings Attached isn’t all that funny or even engaging, so a whole lot rides on Portman and Kutcher (gasp) to potentially change our minds given how admirable their efforts are. Portman, as always, bombards us with endless charm and an appreciable comedic poise that her male costar has notoriously lacked. While Kutcher holds his own quite nicely, exhibiting enough charisma to earn his title as the male lead, his character more or less devolves into a whiny, pining and mostly frustrating stereotype, leaving Portman to carry the torch through to the film’s end along with Kevin Kline’s aptly humorous portrayal of Adam’s celebrity/lothario father, Alvin.
As hard as it tries, No Strings Attached is only able to delay what we always knew would happen for so long until it completely succumbs to convention. With a few mildly heartfelt moments sprinkled over an almost juvenile, sometimes effective sense of humor Reitman’s earlier efforts are known for, the film benefits from the efforts of the cast and some surprising chemistry that exists between its two charismatic leads. I didn’t necessarily hate everything No Strings Attached has to offer, I just wish individuals would stop trying to wring every last drop of originality out of formulas that have recognizably been beaten to death over and over again. Here’s lookin’ at Friends with Benefits when it hits theaters this July. Ugh.