Before we begin, it’s important for you to know that I approached No Strings Attached, the new romantic comedy starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, with a consciously open mind. Knowing that I, as gender stereotypes dictate, would not be in the target audience, I nonetheless wanted to watch this film as objectively as I could. I’ll go further: I wanted to like it. I didn’t want to be the same old sneering, cynical critic. I wanted No Strings Attached to be the romcom that turned the genre around, the one that explained the infinite trail of bland repetitive mediocrity behind it, the one that suddenly made sense of the ugly, cheesy, cringey history of cinematic romantic comedy, like the Lost finale you wished they’d made.
I genuinely wanted to love it, I promise you, but they made it very bloody hard for me. I was hopeful, too – in the director’s chair was one Ivan Reitman, of Ghostbusters acclaim (sure, he hasn’t made a decent movie in twenty years, and son Jason has largely eclipsed his achievements, but still…). Reitman is correctly hailed as a directing and producing legend. But it would seem his comic sensibilities have failed him in his old age. How else to explain this quite astonishing work of banality, predictability and spine-crushing vacuum of comedy?
Quite simply, it’s rubbish. Just rubbish. Reitman is slavishly faithful to the romcom handbook, a blueprint which reasons, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Or, even if it is broke, don’t bother improving it! The twist here is that our two heroes, after a one-off teenage encounter, meet again years later and decide to have a ‘friends with benefits’ relationship, a mutual arrangement of regular casual sex. They agree to not let things get serious. But then…oh, come on, you know what happens.
Boy meets, loses and subsequently gets girl in an oh-so-unsurprising turn of events. Portman and Kushter are fine, and easy on the eye, but their characters are zero-dimensional and you suspect we’re only supposed to be rooting for them because they’re pretty. Slightly better are the quirky, marginally less attractive friends always found in these films, whose slim offerings prop up the film and invariably hog the best dialogue. I’d much prefer to see a film with Greta Gerwig and Kevin Kline as the leads than the one I had to sit through.
The supporting cast ensures this film scrapes a low two-star rating rather than a one, and there are a tiny handful of moments that might make you smile – I chuckled at the period mix CD Kutcher made for when Portman and her gal pals were on their cycle. But they then quickly ruin it with terrible jokes about dating, pet dogs and promiscuous fathers, and Reitman shows no capacity for dealing with any kind of distinctive characterisation. A concluding line of dialogue rivals the infamous “is it raining? I hadn’t noticed” line in Four Weddings for nauseating sentimentality.
Despite my best efforts, I could not enjoy No Strings Attached, a film awash with weary predictability, bland characters impossible to empathise with, and unabashed unoriginality (the forthcoming Justin Timberlake-starring romantic comedy Friends With Benefits will bear no resemblance whatsoever to this plot, I’m sure). 2011 is not yet a month in, and we must unfortunately add this film to the growing list of contenders for our bottom 10 of the year. On this basis, Ghostbusters 3 doesn’t look promising.