Can friends casually have sex? Absolutely. Too good to be true? Absolutely. Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher star in the newest Hollywood romantic-comedy No Strings Attached, a new-age When Harry Met Sally, concluding once more that at the end of the day, we need the strings.
Proving she could handle epilepsy and schizophrenia in her previous roles in Garden State and more recently, Black Swan, the only disorder Portman’s character Emma suffers from is the inability to emotionally commit to someone (a feeling I’m sure very few college students are familiar with). She is a new doctor in her first year of residency with neither time for a relationship nor energy for its baggage. Her attitude exemplifies the difficulty in daring to love someone in spite of the risk, the resounding theme of the film.
Emma’s awkwardly affectionate ways are balanced by her charismatic cohort Adam, played by Kutcher, a veteran in this cutesy genre; but despite his playful charm, Emma is not about to abandon her emotionless love strategy. A relationship officially termed “friends with benefits” is thus laid out very clearly, with exactly what “strings” are forbidden including cuddling, presents, jealousy, and the biggie: breakfast.
Director Ivan Reitman takes it from here revealing the “benefits” of the relationship in a series of steamy montages which combine with enough drug references to give the movie its R rating.
The smart and comical script from Liz Meriwether and the supporting cast do their job to revive what has potential to become the archetypal romantic comedy — no plot surrounding attractive lovers (cough, Love and Other Drugs and every movie Jennifer Aniston has ever starred in).
The backbone of the film comes from both encouraging and discouraging family members as well as Adam and Emma’s respective best friends. Kevin Kline nails the role of the terrible-but-loving-in-his-own way father to Adam, while Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kalig are the supportive voices in Emma’s ear, telling her she’s crazy not to commit. Lucy, played by the hilarious Lake Bell, is Adam’s co-worker who expectedly gets the short end of the stick which does not include strings or benefits.
A few amusing, memorable scenes complement the string-less lovemaking, including a fairly accurate depiction of a frat party and a hilarious opening scene of teenage glory. The rest of the film involves Adam pushing the “friends” envelope as much as she’ll let him, but it’s only after a heartwarming gesture during an apartment-wide attack of Aunt Flo that it becomes very obvious how much he adores Emma. The rules begin to bend ever so slightly (this is where Kutcher’s charm begins to shine), but it turns out that even though Emma is not completely allergic to relationships, she still might not be ready for breakfast. (I would eat breakfast at any time of the day if I was eating it with Ashton Kutcher).
The underlying message remains that we need more in our lives than casual sex, regardless of how hard we try to submerge our emotions. Emma’s sister Katie (Olivia Thirlby) is the poster-child for long-term relationships and does her best to assure Emma that the strings are worth it.
For her first stab at romantic comedies, Portman soars. She’s entertaining and adorable; a low-key but lively performance that should leave her ahead of the pack in the running for the Academy Award for best actress. Co-star Kutcher also leads the pack (in attractiveness) and delivers his go-to, lovable performance leaving the audience batting their eyes and jealous of Demi.
In general, this movie is enough to get your fill of romantic comedy before the nauseating influx of affection that is Valentine’s Day.