Friday, January 28, 2011

Pinnochio it Ain't

Romantic comedies can be tricky business. There are so many that follow the exact same format, dissimilar man and woman who gradually fall for one another over the course of the film. On occasion, that formula is turned on it's head and you get exceptional titles like When Harry Met Sally. Other times, the formula and the chemistry between the romantic leads works so well that you get a title that exceeds expectations despite covering no new ground; Love & Other Drugs.would be a perfect example. But the vast majority of the films in this genre rarely ascend to such lofty heights, content to market themselves to the current younger audience and distinguish themselves in little way from their contemporaries. The question is which tier contains No Strings Attached, directed by Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. Star Ashton Kutcher has held the theme close to heart, starring in films from 2003's Just Married and My Boss's Daughter to the more recent What Happens in Vegas, Valentine's Day and Killers. He's been in so many romantic comedies he's practically married to it. But co-star Natalie Portman has had such a varied career to this point that it's difficult to imagine her in such a film, especially when she's likely to win an Oscar for her psychological horror film Black Swan. So what happens when these two seemingly mismatched performers are asked to make a film that might otherwise get completely ignored under other circumstances?

"Okay, what's that smell?"
Actually, the result is not too bad. No Strings Attached has Adam (Kutcher) and Emma (Portman) as a pair of souls who met at a summer camp during high school. After many years as occasional friends, they decide to get together, but not in the boyfriend/girlfriend way. Emma has a problem with committed relationships, leading to the two becoming "friends with benefits," or more simply sex buddies. This works out well for both of them until Adam begins to realize that he's falling for his partner, which threatens to not only disable the couple's current train, but end their entire friendship in the process.

"Yeah, well... we bang"
As I mentioned earlier, Kutcher has done a bunch of these films, so you'd have to figure he pretty much knows what to do when the camera turns on. Of course, I wouldn't KNOW from seeing any of them; I haven't actively watched Kutcher in anything since 2000's Dude, Where's My Car, and so I'm not really an expert on his works beyond his role as Kelso in That 70's Show. Seemingly having not aged physically since 1998, Kutcher is a basic charming guy, but since he does it so well you'd think he was a modern day Carey Grant or Robert Redford, not simply playing a variation of himself. Adam is a somewhat interesting role, with the young man suffering father issues stemming from his father Alvin (Kevin Kline) being such a famous actor while Adam languishes as a Hollywood stagehand. While what Kutcher does is good, however, it's hardly a stretch from his public persona. Portman is much more interesting, with an aversion to commitment so intense she's almost neurotic. She simply doesn't believe in the idea of relationships because of seemingly eventual partings. If you're going to break up anyway, why put in all the effort and hard work? Portman makes the movie, and though her character's issues are the film's main impetus, she is never the villain or made to be the reason things don't go so as well as they could.

"The balloon is my apology for the smell the other night."
If only the film loved its supporting characters as much as it did the two leads. Kline is charming but something of an asshole as Adam's famous father. The film keeps reminding you that he's an asshole while adoring fans look at him and sigh. A side story featuring a budding relationship between Adam's friend Eli (Jake Johnson) and Emma's friend Patrice (Greta Gerwig) was interesting but did nothing to move the film's story forward. Cary Elwes was barely used in the film, and I wonder why his character was even kept in the script at all, so ineptly was he used. Chris "Ludacris" Bridges entertained with one-liners but otherwise was underutilized. Mindy Kaling and Olivia Thirlby are talented actresses whose casting here served no purpose besides providing familiar faces. The only secondary character used to good effect (besides Kline) is Lake Bell as a nerdy assistant at Adam's work. A little better use of these secondary characters would have allowed the main story to go a little more smoothly, whereas there were a few too many bumps due to lack of story cohesion.

Soup in bed?? On THOSE sheets???
While Ivan Reitman made his name writing and directing comedies in the seventies and eighties, he hasn't done a real romantic comedy since Legal Eagles in 1986, and it shows. As mentioned before, the story suffers from stutters and hiccups due to not having enough plot to really fill 110 minutes. It's also quite adult in it's look at human sexuality (which isn't bad) but goes over the top in parts (which is). The best scene involves Adam using a sort-of taboo situation to give Emma a mix tape, but there aren't nearly enough great scenes like that throughout No Strings Attached's story to make it easy watching. It's obvious the more adult content is meant to appeal to a younger demographic (ironic, yes) but it also seems that Reitman was not necessarily the best option to work on this, as the film doesn't feel unique to the generation its targeting. I can easily see this story being adapted as a more mature non-sexually-oriented title that can appeal to more than just a small demographic.

Ah, the awkward slow kiss... a classic
All in all, I actually LIKED No Strings Attached, though that was more in spite of it's faults than because of anything it did particularly well. The dialogue is actually quite snappy, the acting from the two leads Portman and Kutcher is enjoyable and the laughs do come enough to make me forget about the lousy story and underused supporting cast, at least in the moment. It didn't cover any new ground for the genre, but I certainly had more fun in this film than I did watching The Green Hornet; for this reason alone No Strings Attached makes #1 of 2011's Top 10 films. How much you want to bet the next film I see knocks that clean off?

1 comment:

THE Real Estate Analyst!!! said...

Gianni ... you KNOW the world existed before you were born and movies were made also. Romantic comedy ... see any of the classic 50's movies with Cary Grant ... the template that Hugh Grant was the perfect descendant. But start with "It Happened One Night" starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert ... the very definition of the "Romantic Comedy" GREAT movie