About halfway through No Strings Attached I caught myself wondering, “Am I laughing so hard at this movie because it’s actually funny, or because Natalie Portman’s the one delivering so many of the raunchy jokes… opposite Quintessential Mimbo Ashton Kutcher, who she probably can’t stand in real life?” I’m not really sure what the answer to that question is, but it doesn’t matter. No Strings Attached is exactly what we all need every now and again: A breezy comedy that is neither embarrassingly stupid or appallingly soulless.
Portman and Kutcher play Emma and Adam, friends who met as teenagers at Camp Weehawken in the mid-’90s. They run into each other on and off over the next decade, and then end up having a one-night stand in the present day. The pair has such a good time in the sack, they decide to continue a “friends with benefits” arrangement. Emma’s a doctor working 80-hour weeks, Adam’s an assistant on a Glee-like TV show, so when the mood strikes either of them — and their schedules allow for it — they meet for quickies in all sorts of scandalous places. Casual sex, no feelings involved… no strings attached.
Now, I’m sure all of you can see where this is going. OF COURSE they fall for each other. Duh, right? But no one’s expecting a mind-bending twister here. You want romance and you want comedy, and you will definitely get both. Delivering the best laughs are the exceptionally strong and woefully underused supporting cast members, made up of Kevin Kline, Cary Elwes (Westley!), Ludacris, Mindy Kaling, Greta Gerwig, Lake Bell, Olivia Thirlby, Jake Johnson, and many more. They play Emma and Adam’s various relatives, co-workers, and friends, and they’re perhaps more believable in their roles than Portman and Kutcher are as the conflicted duo. When Adam and his boys strategize about how he should respond to one of Emma’s late-night texts, I have no doubt that conversations exactly like the one those three goofballs had take place multiple times a day around the globe. Guys debating how to sound simultaneously cool and smart and not too eager — but still funny and “bad boyish” — is always going to be a riot, I suppose.
Where No Strings Attached flounders a bit is in some of its more explicity dialogue. Those parts just sounded forced, like screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether stopped considering how real people would actually talk in order to awkwardly jam a few shocking one-liners into the mix. Perhaps she thought dirtying up the script would make it appeal more to a male audience, yet her tactics were not only obvious, but also unsuccessful since those lines weren’t funny to anyone. My other gripe would be that I was disappointed to see the film come to an end in the fairly cheesy, formulaic way that it did. The final scenes didn’t match the tone of the rest of the film, and as a result made the overall movie come off as a tad uneven. But the truly hilarious laughs far outweighed my minor quibbles, and for the better part of two hours I had a smile on my face. Not as dopey of a smile as the one the lovesick Adam/Ashton wore for the majority of the film, but a smile nonetheless.