The key to any good movie, whether it be a romantic comedy or a slasher film, is that you are willing to accept the behavior of the characters that you are watching on the screen. No matter how many times we tell ourselves that we wouldn’t do the stupid things that kids have been doing in the Halloween franchise for over thirty years, if you thought running upstairs would buy you a few more seconds of life you’d be taking the steps two at a time. So while watching a movie as insipid as No Strings Attached the question becomes, how much self respect would you give up for a few romps with Natalie Portman?
That is basically the plot of NSA in a nutshell. Ashton Kutcher plays Adam, a young PA on a High School Musical type show who is still getting over the recent breakup with his girlfriend, only to find out that she is now living with his famous sitcom actor father (Kevin Kline). After a night spent drunk dialing every girl he knows while attempting a booty call, he wakes up in the apartment of his childhood friend Emma (Portman). Emma offers Adam a strict sex-only relationship, no emotions, no commitments. From there we quickly enter mediocre romantic comedy land.
There are all kinds of mistakes occurring during this film, from major script problems to small but significant soundtrack issues. We first meet a young Adam and Emma at summer camp 15 years ago, with Color Me Badd’s “All For Love” playing in the background. They don’t see each other again for five years, when they bump into each other at a frat party. What’s on the stereo? Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson”. The songs that the filmmakers chose to play over each date are all off by five years. It would be like if someone were making a 2011 mixtape and threw Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” on it.
I was honestly stunned to find that a woman was credited as the screenwriter for this. While watching it and witnessing the borderline misogynistic way that Portman’s character is written, I would have bet the farm that a misguided dude was responsible. This is Elizabeth Meriwether’s first produced feature film script, and a lot of the problems on the screen can be traced back to it. The too long running time (just shy of two hours) isn’t helped by what feels like a production that features 40 talking roles that could have been condensed into five or six. Seriously, Portman’s character has three roommates for no other reason than to offer us a scene where all of them, including apparently the guy, are on their periods at the same time. There is also an antagonist for Kutcher’s character who at a barbeque tells Kutcher, “You are the guy that she has sex with in the break room a few times, I’m the guy she marries.” Apparently in Meriwether’s world, we’re perfectly happy watching the fine girl get with every guy in the club on Saturday night, as long as she goes to church with us on Sunday.
Avoid this film at all costs. Run, don’t walk away. This is only the latest in a long line of films that Ivan Reitman (Stripes) has directed over the last two decades that make me wonder if his output in the early 80s was more fluke than anything else, because when you are handed one of the best casts that we are likely to see all year and this is what you give us, I can only be thankful that his son Jason Reitman (Up In the Air) has arrived to show dad how it’s done.