No Strings Attached
Boys and girls have been falling in love in romantic comedies ever since Harold Lloyd derailed his crush’s wedding in Gun Shy. (They’ve been falling in love longer in the real world, though the odds of a happy ending are halved.) What to do when the audience is certain of a happily-ever-after? In this tale of two fuck buddies, director Ivan Reitman flips the script: Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma’s (Natalie Portman) relationship kicks off at her dad’s funeral, lurches into sex and ends with their first time holding hands. This is modern romance as agonized over by cultural critics like Ariel Levy, the hand-wringing author of Female Chauvinist Pigs. At worst, it’s the gateway to Sodom and Gomorrah. (You know, if you’re into that.) At best, it’s the logical extension of this precocious practicality of a generation who prioritizes career and independence and compartmentalizes the vulnerable human heart. Writer Elizabeth Meriwether even gives Kutcher a monologue that links impersonal sex to the connected disconnect of texting and Facebook. Sure. But this is really a fantasy that seduces its audience: women who want to pretend that they’re a brilliant med student with Ashton Kutcher at their beck and booty call, and men who’d love to get a text from Portman (or anyone, really) that reads “Your place, 30 min.”
The requirements of the central love story are simply two pairs of dreamy brown eyes and decent chemistry—neither Kutcher nor Portman register as anything as complicated as people. (Though they’ve both spent years onPeople’s Most Beautiful list.) But Reitman’s crammed the movie with odd people and odd throwaway jokes: Kevin Kline as the alpha dad who poaches Kutcher’s ex-girlfriend, Lake Bell as his trainwreck boss on a Glee-esque show, Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling as Portman’s awkward roommates and even Cary Elwes in a near-silent role as a bearded, inexplicably magnetic doctor. The shaggy fringes of the flick get most of the laughs—for one, it’s absurdly obsessed with ’90s hip-hop, including a punch line where Ludacris waxes about a very special time listening to “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Scenes are shaped in situ with the looseness of improv; Reitman’s forever cutting in at the tale end of a strange story, leaving in random digressions or cutting away after a did-they-just-say-that murmur. And when Kutcher oversteps by making his girl a period-themed mixtape, the joke keeps going, cranking out a half-dozen song titles, including “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” By sheer force of will—or really, willingness to wedge in a joke a minute—it works well enough that it won’t crush Portman’s chances at a Best Actress Oscar. Alas. But as Love Story argued, love means never having to say you’re sorry.