No heartstrings pulled ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, February 17, 2011

No heartstrings pulled

No Strings Attached
My rating:

I have missed quite a number of Hollywood romantic comedies in the past year, and seeing as how I plan my movie-watching itinerary quite carefully, they were all conscious decisions to do so. I would've caught more of them if I had more time (or if someone paid me to review movies HINT HINT). As I have previously mentioned, I actually like the genre - but my liking it means I am actually able to discern the good ones from the bad. And there are just so very few good ones lately that I take my cue from other critics; I only catch the ones that have gotten the very rare decent reviews.

This one isn't one of them. Buuuuutt I guess I kinda enjoyed it.

Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) have crossed paths a few times over the years, but never acted on their mutual attraction. Until they bump into each other again as adults; Adam now an assistant on a TV show, Emma a resident doctor. After learning that his aging-former-sitcom-star father (Kevin Kline) is now dating his ex-girlfriend (Ophelia Lovibond), Adam gets depressed and drunk, ends up calling Emma - and they end up having sex. Emma proposes a casual, no-strings-attached relationship, and they hook up several times for hot sexy sex - but Adam is clearly smitten, whereas Emma remains leery of emotional attachment.

I watched this the day after Valentine's Day, which also happened to be a public holiday. Naturally the cinema was full of couples in the mood for luurrrve - and also in the mood to enjoy a romantic comedy. There's nothing like watching a movie in a packed cinema hall with a receptive audience, and they sure helped me enjoy it. It's quite funny, and I'm happy to report that the humour comes from genuinely witty dialogue - courtesy of screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether - rather than contrived wackiness. In fact, I don't even recall any big comic setpieces, which is a rarity in modern American comedies. All the characters are reasonably well-drawn (if, of course, snarkier than real-life), and no one is a broad caricature made "quirky" just to draw the yuks. Which makes it an improvement over the last rom-com I reviewed.

Where it does not improve on Going the Distance is in the central romantic relationship. Adam and Emma fall for each other jump into bed for barely any reason than Just Because. (It is impossible to have hot sexy sex while hungover. I speak from personal experience.) They do have some reasonably engaging chemistry together, but a good rom-com needs to develop that before their relationship actually begins. This is why the Meet Cute exists; it may be a cliché, but it's there to establish that the guy and girl are attracted to each other from the very beginning. The cuteness of Adam's and Emma's meets are limited to giving each other flirty looks - or maybe they were looking at the signs above their heads that say "Your Designated Love Interest Here".

I wonder then if the problem is in the casting. Natalie Portman is, of course, hawt as hell one of the finest young actresses working today, and playing a rom-com lead should be a walk in the park for her. And, well, it is - but maybe not this rom-com. You see, Emma is a pretty emotionally messed-up person - as is anyone who dictates the ground rules in a relationship, breaks them, and tortures both herself and the other person in the process. But Portman plays her as too nice, lacking the edge that such a character - and such a story - deserves. I don't really get why Ashton Kutcher is so disliked (I liked him in The Butterfly Effect), but here I found him really kinda bland. Adam may be smart enough not to be a complete doormat to Emma, but Kutcher just never brings to life his heartsick longing for her.

The rest of the casting works just fine however. I haven't mentioned the presence of that other great rom-com staple, the guy's and girl's respective friends/family/support group. Adam has his buddies (Jake M. Johnson, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges), Emma has her fellow doctor housemates (Greta Gerwig, Mindy Kaling, Guy Branum). There's also Adam's aforementioned father and ex, while Emma also has a sister (Olivia Thirlby) whose impending wedding figures into the plot. Oh, and they both also have other competing paramours (Lake Bell, Ben Lawson). That is a pretty packed supporting cast, and to the film's credit it never feels overstuffed; Meriwether's script utilizes each of them well.

So I think the real problem is that director Ivan Reitman - who has never returned to the heights of the one great movie he made - decided to make a perfectly safe and inoffensive movie, one that offers a few decent laughs and maybe an "awww" or two. And I guess it delivers on those fronts. But y'see, as a discerning fan of the romantic comedy genre, I'd like my "awww"s to be a bit more genuine. I'd like real, relatable characters with whom I can connect. I'd like to really feel what they're going through, every glorious high and heartbreaking low of their romance. No Strings Attached just goes through the motions.

NEXT REVIEW: The King's Speech
Expectations: looking forward to it


MeLL said...

this came in too late for Valentine's Day night... could have watched this that night ...