REVIEW: Actions Speak Louder Than Dirty Words in No Strings Attached

Movieline Score: 7

It's a noble thing to make a movie that tries to capture the way real people speak. But how do you know how close you're getting? And even when you put raunchy turns of phrase or the most current slang in your characters' mouths, are you really capturing the reality of those characters' -- or of anyone's -- lives? Language is either a part of the landscape of a movie or it's window dressing, the first thing you notice. Can movie speech be believable and natural when it jumps out at us?

In Ivan Reitman's No Strings Attached, the language is part -- though not all -- of the problem, and time and again the script, by Elizabeth Meriwether (from a story by Meriwether and Michael Samonek), appears to be the major force that noses the movie's rhythms out of whack. The complication, though, is that nearly all the performers here -- not just the movie's two stars, Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman, but an array of likable and extremely well-cast second bananas -- seem to be having a good time, and their easy-going congeniality keeps the movie putting along, even through some extremely rough patches.

Kutcher and Portman play Adam and Emma, two young people making their way in Los Angeles with varying degrees of success: Emma -- an overachiever who admits that she's not particularly emotional or affectionate -- is a doctor; Adam -- irrepressibly warm and affable, if a bit goofy -- works as an assistant on a weekly teen-musical show, though he really wants to be a writer. Adam and Emma met years earlier, as kids at summer camp -- the movie opens with that flashback, in which young Adam (played by Dylan Hayes) fires the first of the movie's sexually explicit salvos when he asks Emma bluntly, "Can I finger you?"

She says no, of course, and as their paths cross repeatedly over the years (once while the two are attending different colleges; later when she drags him to her father's funeral as an unwitting date), Emma doesn't exactly become more yielding. Still, there's something about Adam she likes, though she won't admit it to herself. And no matter how many times she spurns him, Adam continues to be cautiously intrigued by her. So one fateful morning -- after Adam wakes up on Emma's couch, surrounded by her numerous fellow-doctor roommates, unable to recall what happened the night before -- they actually do have sex. Emma then presents him with a proposition: The two of them will get together for sex whenever they feel like it, but the moment one of them becomes too emotionally attached, the deal is off.

Adam agrees, though of course we know that since he's just a big mushbug, he'll be the one to cave in first. And sure enough, he shows up at Emma's apartment while she -- along with two of her roommates, played by Greta Gerwig and Mindy Kaling -- are all having their periods. Not only has he brought them cupcakes, which they descend upon with hormonally charged voraciousness; he's also made Emma a "period mix" CD, including obvious choices, like U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday" and less obvious ones, like Frank Sinatra's "I've Got the World on a String."

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  • Brad says:

    For someone complaining about the use of language and words, I'm wondering why I can't figure out what you're trying to say in the first to paragraphs.

  • Sarah says:

    Great review! And spot-on re: Kutcher.

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    I wonder where Ashton gets his instinct to please from? Maybe there's something in the roles he takes, or the kinds of women he tends to date, that could give a hint? Anyway, it's surely wholly commendable -- who'd want to just a horse when you can be the prancing pony the whole of your life? Unless of course you could be embarrassing jackass, Gervais: you'd think seeming like you'd never crawled out of the crib would count against you, but I swear he tore down the world sensing that life-long babies are morphing into scarily-bequethed enfants terribles, who won't much longer have to know what it is to have to back down to adults.
    Speaking of adults: Stephanie, you're always commendably calling for more films for them; let's keep up some voice for more adults in film, too: I know this one's about childish adults, but I don't want to wait for Ashton to be in some cancer role for someone to tell him it's NOT this time his part to play the fool.

  • The Cantankerist says:

    From whence does Ashton draw the urge to please?
    From whence does he derive his point of view?
    His chosen roles, his taste in adorees,
    should offer us some glimmer of a clue.
    In any case, he's quite the prancing foal,
    perpetually the prince and not the king.
    What price, Gervais, for this entitled soul?
    All days are playtime when the play's the thing.
    But Stephanie demands an adult take,
    and please, defend that notion to the last.
    This story may be light as angel cake,
    but for some others, cry: "Dude, where's my cast?"
    And live in hope that Ashton heeds this rule:
    "It's not this time your part to play the fool".