Better yet, they have terrific chemistry-smart, sexy, and sweet
Much of the best humor is a reaction to anxiety, and Reitman is timely in this respect, too. For Emma is part of a trend: As census figures have been showing for several erican women than ever aren’t just postponing marriage but are skipping it altogether. This trend is one of the fruits of modern feminism, and cultural conservatives find it a bitter one, insisting that it means the end of civilization as we know it-which, in a way, it probably does-and that it will only make women feel really, really bad, which it probably won’t. Because otherwise, why would we keep doing it? No Strings isn’t the only romantic comedy to tap into this trend (Runaway Bride, anyone?) but it may be the first with the nerve and originality not to retreat into cozy domesticity or a trip to the altar. Instead, Reitman ends his movie with its most audacious and satisfying joke.
After a puzzling series of disappointments, No Strings Attached is a return to form for a director who made his name delighting audiences with such comic gems as Ghostbusters (1984) and Dave (1993). The movie’s bright script is the impressive first-time effort of Elizabeth Meriwether, which may account for the welcome absence of the gross-out humor that infests even the best male-oriented rom-coms. Instead, we get impudent penis jokes and a down-to-earth sexual candor, frequently laced with a sense of the absurd, that feels true to how female friends talk with one another these days. But what’s most striking-because you suddenly realize how rare it is-is the degree to which women are given the upper hand in this story. Emma is an MD, while Adam is a lowly production assistant hoping to pitch a script for the sitcom he works on. It’s Adam who’s the romantic underdog in this film, endearingly eager to dive in at the deep end while Emma does her best to play the heartless lout. But casting is everything, and it doesn’t hurt that Kutcher, who I’ve come to think of as that genial doofus in the camera commercials, looks as beautiful as Portman. If Emma were portrayed by almost any other actress, she’d be obnoxious. But even when she’s mouthing off page, Portman brings an innate delicacy to the part; we sense the vulnerability behind all that tough talk. What’s Emma protecting? What made her so gun-shy? Unlike too many Hollywood movies, which shovel information down our throats like knowledge pills for the dull-witted, No Strings isn’t telling-and is the better for it. Emma’s a woman, and she has a past, just like the rest of us.
For all their beauty, the movie never glams them up, and it makes them real-so real that when their sex-fueled entente seems to be breaking apart, they look so stricken it’s painful to watch
This is such a likable movie that it would be easy to overpraise it, so for the record, No Strings Attached isn’t a knock-it-out-of-the-park comedy-it’s more chuckles than guffaws-and there’s an early drunk scene so broad it lands like lead. But the movie gets most things right, including a smartly chosen supporting cast: Besides indie queen Greta Gerwig as Emma’s doctor-pal Patrice and Olivia Thirlby as her soon-to-be-married younger sister, Katie, there’s Dave star Kevin Kline as Adam’s lecherous former-television-star dad and a very funny Jake Johnson as his razzmeister best buddy, who, representing the traditional masculine view, wails, “Are you crazy? You’re being offered every man’s fantasy, and you don’t want it?” More chillingly, a snotty young d in a parking lot face-off, “I’m the guy she marries. You’re the guy she fucked a couple of times in the handicapped bathroom.” That remarkable line is the kind of sharp jab that puts an edge on this comedy. So are the portrayals of its leads. You wish you could tell Emma the other thing the census says: that just because a woman is single doesn’t mean she has to be unattached.