No Strings Attached

If you can’t care about where things go, you have to ask yourself ... why bother at all?

Throughout the history of the Western world, men traditionally called the shots in relationships and women were the ones who demurely followed their lead. People also seemed to meet up, fell in love or at least tolerated each other, and get married in short order before supposedly living happily ever after.

Of course, it was probably never really that simple. And man, how times have changed, with women calling the shots just as often as guys. Women probably initiate one-night stands as often as men now, and cohabitation enables more and more people to delay settling down until later and later in their lives.

But the new romantic comedy No Strings Attached takes a look at one other phenomenon of our sex-saturated society: the concept of friends with benefits, in which a man and woman try to eschew all romantic connections and obligations and instead try to just be friends who happen to hook up together. And because it’s a romantic comedy, it tries to ask if it’s really possible to have that arrangement without falling in love.

Following the friendship of Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) from their first awkward meeting as young teens at summer camp through their late 20s, Strings starts off with a fun and energetic zip and tangy dialogue before devolving into a pat and predictable second half. Adam works as a writers’ assistant on a Glee-style TV show, while Emma is a doctor who lives with a couple of other doctor friends.

When Adam awakens naked and groggy on the doctors’ couch after meeting Emma for a night of too much drinking, he can’t figure out who he might have slept with. But just when he figures out that nothing happened with anyone, his private conversation with Emma in her room winds up crossing exactly that line—and she wants to keep the relationship of sex with no emotional attachments.

This might seem like a dream situation for a guy like Adam, but he’s grown up as the son of a playboy TV sitcom star (Kevin Kline) and knows he doesn’t want to follow in his dad’s pathetically shallow footsteps. As he starts to fall for Emma, he and the audience have to come to terms with a sad secret from her past.

Strings has a lot of sexual humor and numerous hookups in the early part of the film, although they are mostly shown quickly in montage. Buried under the predictable tedium of its second half, it ultimately has a fairly traditional message about it all. It’s something it oddly shares with its obvious forebear Sex and the City, which asked some of the same questions: Should a woman act like a stereotypical, emotionally unattached guy—and can they manage to have a deep physical connection without falling in love? In both cases, the characters realize you can't—which is something Christians already know.

Kutcher and Portman are perfectly cast in their roles, as he continues his string of goofily appealing guy roles and she displays a fun sexiness that has been thus far lacking in her screen persona. First-time screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether also creates an assortment of fun supporting roles that are well-played, particularly by Lake Bell as a fellow writers’ assistant on Adam’s sitcom.

Director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Twins) tackles a romantic comedy for the first time in his career and breaks a distressing string of failed sci-fi comedies like Evolution and My Super Ex-Girlfriend that relied more on special effects than solid writing. But as Adam and Emma’s relationship gets more complicated, he and Meriwether fall off the rails as the film just can’t sustain its charms.

There’s simply not enough at stake here to keep audiences invested in their relationship with these characters. Ultimately, No Strings Attached falls victim to a problem that probably besets all friends with benefits: if you can’t care about where things go, you have to ask yourself ... why bother at all?

8 Comments

85,155

Anonymous reviewed…

It's one thing to state "this movie looks horrible." I mean, that's your opinion.

But as a reader, I will say that I hold great disdain for opinions that (unintentionally or otherwise) masquerade as informed when they are not.

Again, feel free to take issue with subject matter, but please refrain from commenting about the film if you haven't seen it.

85,155

winston reviewed…

I have to echo Kevin. It's actually pretty laughable to decry a film without seeing it.

Melissa

2

Melissa reviewed…

I want to say, I will do my best, though flawed despite my best, to present this in love. I'm prepared to not be agreed with.. I can have peace with that. I have to say lsjf isn't without right for their opinion. Do I have to eat a hamburger to know it's not the healthiest choice? No, I can use the wonderfully useful synopsis for the hamburger.. the nutrition facts. Similarly (though not exactly) I can see a movie trailer, look at what it's rating is, read reviews (like this helpful one), and decide in advance whether the movie is worth dwelling my thoughts on.. or even viewing so that I may have more detailed thoughts later . I don't know of anything that is introduced to me that does not invade my mind and heart later at some point. Jesus said, "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." (Matt 12:34) and to add from King David, "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Lord, my rock and my redeemer," (Psalm 19:14). I just want to say, that without seeing the movie, I can already tell this isn't something I should introduce into my thoughts. Movies are meant to be emotional rides. A successful movie captures your heart and helps you develop sympathies for the situations presented. Wouldn't you agree that you are being manipulated to view the situation as the Movie's producers and staff would like you to view it? I hope I understand you right, lsjf. I take that you are suggesting not to watch the movie because of the foothold it gives the sin in the situation? It's not that you don't still love the people involved in the sin, just that you can not condone it by paying for a movie based on it? Thank goodness there were people before me who figured out what is healthy for my body so that I don't have to eat x number of burgers to know that they are not good for me.

85,155

eb reviewed…

I think the point made was that it is fine to have an opinion about the subject matter, but to call a movie horrible without ever watching it isn't really fair.
It's fine for you to choose to not eat hamburgers, but it's another thing completely for you to say McDonald's has bad hamburgers, especially if you've never tried one.

Erica Vik

2

Erica Vik reviewed…

The hardest part for me watching this movie wasn't the casual sex or the abstract morals, the hardest part was watching a girl so like myself fall in love. You can argue all you want about how wrong or how horrible her choices were...but she was a deeply hurt and unsettled girl.

She was trying her hardest to get through life without commitment and relationships because she didn't want to let someone in. Thats me in a nutshell. I truly believe that I have given up on love, given it to God and let go of my desire to find someone...but it's still hard to see a portrayal of a love story that is so close to my situation.

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