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Video Reviews

THIS REVIEW DEALS WITH GRAPHIC SEXUAL CONTENT AND IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy, Romance
Cast
Natalie Portman as Emma; Ashton Kutcher as Adam; Kevin Kline as Alvin; Greta Gerwig as Patrice; Lake Bell as Lucy; Jake M. Johnson as Eli
Director
Ivan Reitman (My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evolution)
Distributor
Paramount Pictures
In Theaters
January 21, 2011
On Video
May 10, 2011
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

When it comes to romcoms, Natalie Portman is "tired of seeing girls who want to get married all the time." She shouldn't have any trouble enjoying her new movie then.

Adam is a guy who's sown plenty of wild oats. Deep down, though, he's kind of a romantic. And someday, well, he just might want to find his Ms. Right. After all, it could be nice to have a lasting, loving relationship. Not that he really knows what that is.

His father is a narcissistic former TV star who regularly tosses aside relationships like so many watermelon rinds. He cares about little other than his own pleasures. And it just so happens he's currently bedding Adam's ex-girlfriend. Of course, after Adam discovers that very uncomfortable fact, romance and long-term relationships are the furthest things from his mind. All he wants now is to drown out unwanted mental images with lots of alcohol—and some mindless sex.

He wakes up the next morning, naked and hungover on somebody's couch.

After quizzing a few of the women who seem to be living there, he realizes he's naked on the couch of an old friend: Emma. She and Adam have known each other for years. And though he's shown interest, she's kept him at arm's length. Until now.

And after a quick, heated romp, the friends realize that their situation has possibilities. Emma's a busy medical student with no time for the nonsense of relationships. And Adam is certainly not in the market for anymore heartache. On the other hand, they both love sex. So why not solve both their problems and just use each other whenever the mood strikes?

The newfound arrangement requires no candlelight dinners. And certainly no long conversations. The only strings attached are the texts required to set up the locations.

Right?

Positive Elements

When Emma sees how badly Adam's father, Alvin, has hurt his son, she stands up to publicly defend her friend. And the film does point out that Alvin has made a number of poor choices in his life that were hurtful to others.

When his twentysomething girlfriend bails on him, the older man yearns to see his wife whom he long ago divorced. He also sincerely tells his son, "The worst thing you can do in life is to say no to love." He says, "Adam, you've got a good heart. Try to keep it."

[Spoiler Warning] Ultimately, Adam and Emma are able to overcome their doubts about long-term relationships and voice their love and commitment to one another.

Spiritual Content

Adam goes to a Jewish funeral. His friends present him with a cake decorated with Michelangelo's painting The Creation of Adam.

Sexual Content

Months before it arrived in theaters, Ashton Kutcher reported that the production title for No Strings Attached was the much more direct F‑‑‑ Buddies. Indeed, Adam and Emma are seen in the throes of intercourse in several scenes and a variety of locales, incorporating very realistic movements and sounds. One scene ends in a clench-mouthed orgasm. In fact, their vocal expressiveness is even joked about as Adam's roommate calls out, "I can't concentrate on my porn with all this real sex going on!"

The pair of lovers talk openly about body parts and lovemaking choices. Numerous scenes use conversations about sexual organs, naked dances, masturbation and other sexual activities as "humorous" fodder.

We see both Adam and Emma in various states of undress as they get naked together somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen different times. Though the camera avoids full-frontal shots of the actors, it does deliver two rear views of Adam and several other angles of a nude Emma as she dons and removes her skimpy underwear. When Adam wakes up on Emma's couch, only a hand towel covers his groin. Other characters—from Adam's Speedo-clad dad to partying girls dressed in sometimes nearly transparent underwear—also hop on the exhibition bandwagon.

Two drunken girls call out their love for each other and kiss passionately while removing each other's clothing. Adam's rival for Emma's affections is pulled into a supply closet for a homosexual encounter (offscreen). Adam's roommate talks about his two gay dads.

Violent Content

When Adam finds out that his dad has been having sex with his ex, he punches Alvin in the stomach. Later, his father's actions so frustrate him that Adam puts his fist through a wall and slams his forehead down on a table.

Crude or Profane Language

Over 20 f-words and a half-dozen s-words. Six or eight misuses of God's and Jesus' names. "A‑‑," "d‑‑n" and "b‑‑ch" also make appearances. Several vulgar references are made to male anatomy.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Adam's dad rolls a joint that they both smoke. Adam's roommate reports that Alvin stopped by and implies that they shared some "mushrooms." Emma's sister says she smoked some weed to calm her nerves. After hurting his hand, Adam gulps pain pills from a prescription bottle. His dad reportedly overdoses on cough syrup.

Adam, Emma and their friends down vodka, tequila, wine and beer in a number of scenes. On one occasion Adam drinks till he can no longer stand. Emma gets almost as drunk—staggering and slurring her words. A dancer smokes a cigarette.

Other Negative Elements

As teenagers, Emma tells Adam, "People aren't made to be together forever." Alvin never takes his own good advice. Nor does he change his self-focused ways.

Toilet humor and sexual gags are quite common. A series of crude jokes revolves around menstrual cycles.

Conclusion

At first blush No Strings Attached appears to be just another typical boy-meets-loves-loses-gets-girl romantic comedy. The script shuffles in with some medium chuckles. The stereotypical roles are filled by attractive Hollywood hunks and honeys. And the happy ending is recognizably formulaic.

The difference here, we soon find out, is that this particular romcom is draped over the hanger of friends who become casual sex partners—rather than the other way around.

"Emma wants a relationship without the relationship," actress Natalie Portman told Fox News. "She just wants the sex. It's unusual but funny. I love romantic comedies, but I'm tired of seeing girls who want to get married all the time and that's all they're interested in. I think there is a wider vision of how women can conduct their lives and what they want."

Apparently screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether and director Ivan Reitman agree. And so their film sports a grinning anomie, showcases uninhibited trysts, and doesn't blush a bit about the sex-and-go worldview it supports amidst one-liners and love-lost sighs.

It does at least come around to mildly admitting that it can be difficult to have noncommittal sex without a few pesky emotions getting in the way. And it speculates that adults who pursue a me-centered life will negatively impact themselves and their offspring. But it certainly doesn't suggest that you should change your ways. In fact, if anything, there's a much more focused encouragement here for young and old alike to find their own paths through the "no rules/new rules" of dating and sexuality.

"I think this movie does point out, though, that we have to stop acting like casual sex isn't happening, and start to be realistic about what a modern courting relationship is like," Kutcher told hollywoodnews.com.

Of course, the actor did go on to admit that his "realistic" viewpoints don't always translate to how he runs his own home. "My youngest daughter just went on a date with a kid," Kutcher continued. "I made him come in. He said hello. He walked her to the door at the end of the night and did all the right things. So that gives me hope."

Viewers of Kutcher's raw, rudderless comedy won't say the same.

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