NO FLOWERS, PLEASE Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher star in ‘No Strings Attached’.
Love, sex and strange ground rules
Last Tuesday, I received a text message – “Overheard in Galway … Builder 1: ‘Tell me you love me though’. Builder 2: ‘What the f*** are you on about, man?’ Builder 1: ‘You do though’. Builder 2: ‘Ah, I do, yeah’.”
I was reminded of that exchange while watching Ivan Reitman’s new rom-com ‘No Strings Attached’, during a scene where two lesbians express their heretofore secret love for each other while sitting either side of Ashton Kutcher. But I laughed more heartily reading the text message than watching the movie.
It’s a funny, thing, love. Apparently the ancient Greeks had seven different words for it. And it features in one form or another in most motion pictures. ‘No Strings Attached’ poses the question: can you have sex without love getting in the way? It stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman as self-described ‘sex friends’, people who ‘use each other for sex at all hours of the day and night’ without actually dating.
Kutcher plays Adam, a guy trying to get over the fact that his ex-girlfriend is now dating his famous father (Kevin Kline). After a booze-filled night, he wakes up on a sofa belonging to Emma (Portman). A ‘one-morning stand’ quickly ensues.
He’s smitten, but she says having a boyfriend brings her out in the emotional equivalent of a ‘peanut allergy’. She’s happy to have regular and adventurous sex with him, but doesn’t want to snuggle, or fight, or eat breakfast together, or do anything ‘regular couples’ do. Adam accepts the ground rules, while helpfully mapping out a future where they fall in love.
The project’s working title was ‘Friends With Benefits’, which may explain why Paramount’s official synopsis describes the characters as “lifelong friends” (which they’re not) whose unorthodox relationship is rooted in trying to “protect their friendship”. Funny, I thought the original excuse was Emma’s 80-hour working week.
There are some mildly amusing lines but few laugh-out-loud moments. Adam’s response to his father’s revelation is to call every female whose number he possesses until one of them agrees to sleep with him. During a brief montage, he first offers to move to Ohio and, when that fails, tells the next person on his list: “Of course I can visit – which hospital?” It is as if Eddie Murphy’s Prince Akeem in ‘Coming To America’ said ‘yes’ to the devil-worshipper, or the woman who was Joan of Arc in a former life, or the lady whose husband was on death row.
But for every snappy one-liner, there’s a crude, sex-based joke … and even the best of those aren’t great. A chauvinistic honky-tonk singer belts out the line ‘I got 99 problems and a bitch ain’t one’. Adam’s friend Eli suggests that a one-night stand in a Prius is a guilt-free experience, because hybrid cars are environmentally friendly. You get the picture.
When Emma tells Adam to sleep with a stranger, his friends tell him he’s living every man’s dream. But his interest in her has gone beyond the physical, and a game of double (or even treble) bluff follows.
It’s ground that was dealt with successfully in ‘Love and Other Drugs’, where Anne Hathaway’s reluctance to get close to Jake Gyllenhaal could be explained by her early-onset of Parkinson’s Disease. Here, Emma’s refusal to commit to the “annoyingly happy” man with “a good heart” increasingly grates, and makes you wonder – or care – if they should be together at all.
So is ‘No Strings Attached’ worth seeing? It has its moments, but to use a double entendre that could have been taken from the script – I’ve had better.
Rating 5 out of 10