No Strings Attached
Portman, Kutcher make ‘Strings’ snappy
We might have been guilty of romantic-comedy profiling on this one, but going into “No Strings Attached,’’ we had to wonder: What’s Natalie Portman doing in a booty call confection with Ashton Kutcher? This is how you follow up “Black Swan’’? It was nearly as curious to see her signing on for a genre entry directed by Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters’’), who’s got a career’s worth of comedy cred, sure, but not thanks to meet-cute stuff (see “Legal Eagles,’’ “Six Days Seven Nights’’).
Silly us to think she wasn’t making a smart choice. In fact, the whole enterprise is pretty smart here, from Kutcher’s unexpected sensitive-guy restraint to the crackerjack supporting cast to a script that mixes raunch and charm with surprising effectiveness. And it doesn’t hurt that Portman and Kutcher really are sexy together.
Mainstreaming her quirky “Garden State’’ wit, Portman plays Emma, an LA medical resident with a fear of commitment that extends all the way to being snuggle-phobic. Kutcher is Adam, a good-hearted horndog who’s had a thing for her ever since they were at summer camp together years back, and who’s as interested as ever when they meet again by chance.
When an ex of Adam’s gets together with his blithely narcissistic sitcom-star dad (Kevin Kline), Adam goes on a night-long bender that ends with him landing on Emma’s couch, and soon enough, in her bed. He’s immediately all about lovey-dovey texting and romantic gestures, but she’s got something else in mind: a friends-with-benefits arrangement that will keep them satisfied at night without turning things weird between them. (Yeah, good luck with that.)
As far as rom-com obstacles to happiness go, this one sounds characteristically contrived, but Portman and Kutcher make it work, appealingly. The film is also packed with enough sharply scripted screwiness from Adam’s roommate (Jake Johnson), Emma’s roomie (Greta Gerwig), and others to keep viewer impatience to a minimum. It’s some trick when a movie can throw in an entire scene of menstruation humor without being just plain tasteless. Go figure that the same movie riffs on the old lovebird shorthand of sharing a milkshake in a way that couldn’t be sweeter.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.