As someone who appreciates well-done romantic comedies, as well as any film with Natalie Portman and - gasp! - laughing out loud in movie theaters, I was eagerly anticipating No Strings Attached. After having seen Portman make out with Mila Kunis and dance her crazy heart out in Black Swan last month, we know she can do absolutely anything. No Strings Attached marks the actress' first foray into the romantic comedy genre while raising the question: Can this multi-dimensional actress get laughs?
Emma (Portman), a medical resident, and aspiring Adam (Ashton Kutcher) are old acquaintances who end up in present-day L.A. and form a "friends with benefits" relationship. Emma lays down the law - just sex, no cuddling, no fighting, no jealousy. How can Adam argue with that?
No Strings Attached finds Portman in top form and outright hilarious. After watching Portman in No Strings Attached, and a few months ago seeing Anne Hathaway in Love and Other Drugs, I believe there is hope for the future of romantic comedies.
"You look like a pumpkin, bitch!" Emma screams at one of Adam's potential conquests, while the entire audience bursts out in laughter. You know when you're still snickering about a line from a movie long after you've left the theater that the writers did something right. No Strings Attached also benefits from the direction of comedy film legend Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Stripes), who is back in top form here after 2006's dreadful Super Ex-Girlfriend.
Not only was Portman graced with some of the films funniest lines and moments, but she was also surrounded by a very funny and talented group of supporting actors. Emma's roommates, Shira (The Office's Mindy Kaling) and Patrice (Greta Gerwig from Hannah Takes the Stairs), both provide comic relief and some of the film's most truthful quips.
Some backstory: Emma first meets Adam at sleep away camp, and though the scene was short, it makes an impact. The actress who plays young Emma (Stefanie Scott) could quite possibly be Portman. Usually when films feature the main characters as children, the kids kind of resemble the main actor, but it's not always on the mark. I don't know if I've ever seen a better pairing. Scott sounded like Portman, used the same mannerisms, and even looks pretty similar to the actress. And most importantly, both actresses effectively portrayed Emma's lack of affection and fear of commitment.
No Strings Attached is an interesting and uproariously funny take on modern relationships, but still, it has its flaws. Had the filmmakers cut out some of the extraneous subplots, the film would have felt tighter and more concise. Sometimes it seemed there was too much going on - Adam's famous father hooking up with his ex-girlfriend, Adam's career, Emma's sister's wedding, and so on. Sometimes a comedy needs to keep a nice and steady pace without too many detours.
I haven't laughed out loud this much during a movie since last fall's Easy A. Coincidentally enough, Will Gluck, the director of Easy A, releases a film similar to No Strings Attached this summer called Friends With Benefits (starring Justin Timberlake and Portman's Black Swan co-star Kunis). No Strings Attached has set the bar high, with Portman's incredible talent and the film's strong, witty writing. It will be interesting to see how the two films match up come July.
No Strings Attached
Starring Natalie Portman and Ashton
Kutcher. Directed by Ivan Reitman.