Friday, 4 March 2011

FILM REVIEW: No Strings Attached

"Did you have sex with a girl and then give her a balloon?" Ahhh, No Strings Attached: my new worst guilty pleasure.

Readers and knowers of the culturemouse will know that I don't watch many romcoms, for obvious they-hate-each-other-but-love-each-other-with-no-originality-plus-crass-humour-and-Katherine-Heigl reasons. But I don't necessarily hate the genre: there are plenty of great chick flicks out there, it's just they don't come around very often. And Natalie has never done one before: she's come close a couple of times (Where The Heart Is the clearest example although Garden State can be argued) but No Strings Attached is her first fully fledged effort. And call me bias, call me deluded as getting to watch one of these films is a rare treat and I'm not demoralised by them - but I enjoyed this A LOT and kind of (secretly) want to go and see it again.

The premise is different, and this has been applauded by most critics. It's a modern day 'romcom' - originally titled "Fuck Buddies" although it's a lot sweeter than that and I'm glad it was changed, regardless of little old ladies being offended. This time it's the girl (Emma - Natalie) who has the commitment issues and the guy (Adam - Ashton Kutcher) just wants to settle down with someone in a relationship and er, snuggle. So it's an intriguing dynamic which can only work if the girl is likable in her apparent callousness, and also relatable. And I think Natalie steps up to the job nicely - she's funny, and sweet, and even when she's at her most bitchy she has that stroke of vulnerability.

It's been said that not a lot of reasons are given for Emma's insecurity and relationship issues, and although I agree it could have been sketched out better it's fairly clear it's to do with her parent's divorce. It's an interesting muse on divorce actually and the way it can affect people in different ways: Adam's parents are also divorced (his father has had several marriages, and a current relationship with his ex-girlfriend - icky!) and that has left him with a craving for affection and stability. Emma seems to have gone in a polar opposite direction, forcing herself to be strong and independent. Her sister on the other hand (a sadly pointless Olivia Thirlby) has gone the same way as Adam, and needs someone to look after her. Perhaps a heart-to-heart over damaged childhoods might have done the trick (I say this so casually!) - it could have been capitalised on in the very first scene actually - Adam and Emma as teenagers at camp, but perhaps this isn't what director Ivan Reitman was going for.

The "so many years" later sequences weren't really necessary as they could have been explained away in the plot. Or to keep them at least extend them to make them relevant instead of use of them as a plot device, a quick jump of decades. It was all a bit trendy at times too - he works on a film set, she's a doctor, his dad is a famous actor, everyone lives in big posh houses - and the shallow easy lives take away from the emotion and angst at times, but that doesn't mean that I wasn't rooting for them and cried like a baby at the end.

Ashton Kutcher really reminded me of Zack Braff here. I'm not sure why - I think it might have been the hair, or just his general goofiness (maybe I just need to watch Garden State again). I don't agree that there wasn't any chemistry between the two - but it was very playful, and a lot of couples are like that (they were friends first, remember). I thought the first sex scene was genuinely refreshing - you don't normally get that much detail! And I was fond of them throughout - I loved the balloon scene. I loved when he made her a period mix tape and Natalie sang badly without giving a hoot. I loved when he gave her carrots instead of roses. I loved that he made her an itinerary for their first date... There were so many lovely moments that just completely won me over. And Natalie in turn too - I loved when she hid in a bush and I LOVE LOVE LOVE when she got peeved at not having her own milkshake so used an extra straw to sip more of it. That's my favourite film scene of the year so far!

The supporting cast were pretty lacklustre, although I enjoyed the way they were allowed to have their own little storylines, even if they felt a bit forced. Nice to see: Olivia Thirlby, Greta Gerwig, Adhir Kalyan, and to some extent Ophelia Lovibond although I hated that story the most and didn't see any need for it in the film whatsoever - it brought it down. But by far the worst scene (and section) was when Adam gets mixed in with the two girlfriends who suddenly realise they love each other and start getting off in their underwear. I thought it was all a planned ruse to help Adam by luring out Emma's jealousy so she would come over to see him. But nope - they played it for real. And drunk Natalie hid behind a sofa and attacked them like a giant cat. It was horrrrrrible. But the dip soon picked up again.

I thought the ending was lovely too - he dismissed her on the phone and didn't fall into her lap again, as you can tell she expected for being 'brave' and making the first move. Yes the 'twist' with his father going into hospital where she works was very trite, but at least she didn't end up saving his life or any balls like that. And the "what happens now?" bit at the end was like a Garden State fish smacking me in the face. "So what do we do? What do we do?" If only the soundtrack had also been amazing...

I thoroughly enjoyed No Strings Attached and I'm not afraid to admit it - I will shout it loud and proud and urge other people to go and see it, too! Plus it has an Academy Award winner in it - did you know that?

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