‘No Strings Attached’ leaves audience hanging

Unattached is how I feel after seeing the latest rom-com starring swan queen Natalie Portman and goofy leading man Ashton Kutcher. As the title suggests, the movie directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, My super ex-girlfriend) revolves around two main characters becoming involved in a playful “friends with benefits” sort of relationship. Or so they thought.

Emma (Portman) is spurred into the relationship because it is convenient for her medical resident’s 80-hour work week schedule. She barely has enough time to take care of her appearance (although Portman is made to look mystifyingly beautiful despite the slouchy hospital scrubs and uncombed hair), let alone date. Emma is also drawn to the rendezvous because she is emotionally closed off and hostile toward romance.

Kutcher plays Adam, an assistant on a High School Musical-esque TV show and son of a well-known former sitcom star. Having been perpetually overshadowed by his father’s success, things hit rock bottom when Adam found out that his 58-year-old father had been dating his 20-something ex-girlfriend. It seems that the need to prove his manhood and competency motivated Kutcher to take on Portman’s offer of a purely physical relationship.

It was clear that Adam was smitten by Emma from the beginning. All the while enjoying the no-commitment sexual frenzy, he secretly tried to make Emma fall for him by romantic gestures, which culminated in a Valentine’s Day date. All I have to say for you to figure out the ending is predictable.

Being a romantic comedy, No Strings Attached lacks characters’ depth. No explanation is offered to why Portman’s character had become so off-beat and cynical about love. A flashback to the summer camp where the two first met reveals that she had been that way even ten years before her father’s death. On the other hand, Adam is an average guy with a cheesy sense of romance and a “good heart.”

One particular scene where Adam and Emma played with plastic straws was very reminiscent of Kutcher’s former role in 2005 A Lot Like Love, in which he also underwent a non-traditional seven-year relationship that ended up being love.

The movie also disappoints with its half-hearted comedy. Screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether tries too hard to bring about laughter with one-liner phallus jokes and compromising situations that result from Adam’s clumsiness. Exaggerated characters from his workplace and frequented bar (whose owner is played by rapper Ludacris) are played up in a weak attempt to induce humor, which is unnecessarily distracting and takes away from the plot.

The soundtrack is one of the more memorable features of the flick. Bleeding Love, a 2008 chart topper by British singer Leona Lewis, takes on a whole new meaning when incorporated into a “period playlist.” There is also an intriguing banjo-laced blues, rock and roll cover of Jay Z’s “99 problems” by Hugo.

No Strings Attached receives a deserving 5.3 and 5.4 out of ten from Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes. The 110 minutes wasn’t a total waste of a Friday night, so don’t let my review keep you from seeing the movie and satisfying your curiosity. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if you come out of the theater unimpressed.

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