No Strings Attached – 2011
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Kline, Mindy Kaling, Cary Elwes, Ludacris, etc.
Written by Elizabeth Meriwether
Reitman has not made a good movie since 1993. Still, the guy had a run, from Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters, Legal Eagles, Twins, Ghostbusters II, Kindergarten Cop and Dave. You can’t blame a guy for resting on his laurels, but you can sure learn to avoid a guy who directs while still at rest. While having a few more laughs than usual, one cannot help but feel it is because of the shotgun approach: throw enough junk out there, some of it will worthy of a chuckle.
Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher play a sort of role reversal, as Portman’s Emma is, for some reason, incapable of portraying the requisite emotions which, in this day and age, should follow a purely physical relationship. Kutcher, who seems to have been born to play a man/chick, is Adam. After their first time, Adam brings balloons to where Emma works, and, thusly, Emma lays down the law.
Adam, already suffering due to the fact that his father (Kline, in a so-so portrayal) is having an affair with his ex-girlfriend, and he’s had a crush on Emma for a while, so, you know, he’ll take what he can get. But those nesting vibes kick in, and he is getting closer to menopause…or so it feels.
There is a pretty good supporting cast in the movie, with a bunch of the good lines coming from the likes of The Office vet, Mindy Kaling and Greta Gerwig, both playing housemates of Emma. There is another character, portrayed by Guy Burnaum, who lives with them and is, of course, gay. There are plenty of obvious moments dedicated to this cliché which has just been played out in romantic comedies these days. It’s like a badge of honor, these “happens to be gay” characters. It does nothing to erase the stereotypes, but then, aren’t romantic comedies built on stereotypes?
Of course, No Strings Attached presents itself as if it is breaking the female nesting stereotype, but really it isn’t. Women going against type was perfected by the likes of Katherine Hepburn back before WWII. Meriwehter’s script, for what it’s worth, is decent. I mentioned before that there are plenty of memorable lines. Reitman plays it smooth and passionless. Kutcher has played this same guy before, and never to any effect. His acting is the kind that, for the most part, does not detract from a movie, even if it adds nothing either. Portman, getting off to such a huge start with Leon: The Professional, she has shown herself beneath the task of projecting a presence in cinema. The camera may be on her a lot, but she always seems to fade to the background while the camera rolls.
Directed by Edward Zwick
Starring Anne Hathaway, Jake Gyllenhaal, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria
Written by Zwick, Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz based on Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman by Jamie Reidy
Another woman as aggressor movie is Love & Other Drugs. Based on a semi-autobiographical book by Jamie Reidy. He is played in the movie by Gyllenhaal as an incredible womanizer, who gives tips to a married fat guy (Platt), who listens as though the script is telling him to. Hathaway, as Maggie, throws a wrench in his act during his early days as a pharmaceutical salesman by being more direct than he is, more non-committal than he is, and more randy than he is. Woohoo. Sparks fly, they have plenty of adult situations, but, as she has Parkinson’s disease, she won’t hold him down. Like Kutcher, Gyllenhaal falls hard and tells her that he loves her.
She can’t accept this, though. She…must…be…alone, so she doesn’t…hurt anyone. Of course, we know how this turns out. Both of these actors have chops, of course. They were even paired up together before, in Brokeback Mountain. This time around is just clunky, to be sure. It starts out like a comedy, then moves up into drama territory, camping out there, quite uncomfortably, for the rest of the film. The draw is seeing both actors naked, if you believed the trailers. Once you get past that, into another hour of false crises and much crying and role reversal, you feel like grabbing your cat and holding it forever, telling it that you love it. This would mainly be due to the fact that any cat would stand a better chance of avoiding the comic and dramatic clichés that this movie uses as sustenance. For anyone looking for a sex comedy, you get to enjoy much hugging and learning. For anyone looking for acting, suffice to say, this movie would not garner either of these good to great actors more awards for acting. Not much to see here, either way.
The big surprise is the involvement of Zwick, who’s had a pretty decent dramatic record thus far. I would never have guessed in a thousand years he would have touched this stuff, if I did not know beforehand. It is watchable, hits all the marks, sometimes with a thud. This one is just above the Alan Smithee line.
Both of these films made over $100 million. I would say it’s as much for the price of tickets as anything. Neither film will be in anyone’s (outside of die-hard fans) collection in 10 years.
Rating for both films:
(** out of *****)