Sunday 17 December 2017

Movies: No strings attached **


Paul Whitington

There's no point in comparing modern romantic comedies to the glory days of the 30s and 40s. As you're no doubt tired of hearing critics say, Hollywood doesn't know how to make them any more, but they keep making them anyway. In fairness, Ivan Reitman's No Strings Attached is by no means the worst of them -- it has a decent cast, a certain momentum, and moments of genuine mirth. But it does a shoddy job of setting up its unconvincing premise, and is let down by a crucial piece of miscasting.

Acting well within his comfort zone, Ashton Kutcher stars as Adam, a happy-go-lucky Los Angeles television writer who's merrily free and single until he runs into an old acquaintance from college. Emma (Natalie Portman) is now a busy casualty doctor who works night shifts and has little time for a personal life. She's also very wary of any kind of commitment, and her solution to the obvious sexual attraction between her and Adam is a 'no-strings-attached' sexual arrangement. Adam goes along with it, but, as their regular trysts inevitably lead to intimacy, it's him and not her who yearns for more.

Mr Reitman (father of Jason) is a hugely experienced Hollywood veteran. But his curriculum vitae -- Meatballs, Stripes, Kindergarten Cop -- does not suggest a light and subtle touch. However, while No Strings Attached is short on charm and heavyhanded, it's not without its moments. These come mainly from a strong supporting cast: Kevin Kline has an amusing turn as Adam's flaky father, Lake Bell is great fun as a secretly smitten work colleague, and Greta Gerwig is Emma's best friend. But Natalie Portman looks and seems very ill at ease.

In Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan, Portman found the perfect role for her particular talents. She doesn't have the looseness or comedic instincts for this type of caper. Her casting seems particularly quixotic when right beside her are actresses such as Gerwig or even Olivia Thirlby (who plays her sister) who could do this kind of thing standing on their heads. Kutcher is actually quite good in his shaggily charming way, but he and Portman seem a mismatch in more ways than one.

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