Tuesday, February 8, 2011

No Strings Attached (2011) – Review

No Strings Attached is really funny, yet disconnected and sort of a depressing assessment of modern relationships. Ultimately, it is an entertaining and enjoyable film – thanks primarily to the witty joke writing and comical (if not zany) performances from many of the cast members. Director Ivan Reitman seems, however, to want to tell a number of different stories with the same narrative. There is a lot stuffed into the film (much like life, I guess), but the format of a sub two-hour romantic comedy does not lend itself well to tackle all the narrative issues convincingly in the allotted time (had this been stretched to a season of television, it may well have worked a lot better and felt more complete, not to mention that the narrative idea felt a bit like a television sit-com pilot). As is, it is disjointed and superficially satisfying. Sure, the audience laughs (a lot) but the deeper emotions are not there. Not due to poor performances, but more so to the out-there, exaggerated nature of the comedy and hollow characters. The most difficult relationship to feel anything for was Adam’s with his father. The father character is not real, or at least does not feel that way at all. He oozes with forced humor intentions, while being completely awful to his son – resulting in a character and scenes that are neither funny nor illicit emotional connection/development. When, he does find his heart and reconnects with his son, no one cares because the relationship was meaningless to the audience from the beginning. Reitman also does something quite interesting (whether on purpose or not) in his juxtaposing the silly humor against the sad state that modern relationships are in. The ‘real’ love examples the audience are given play out mostly off screen, while the highly problematic relationships are forced upon the audience (one of them being Adam and Emma’s – while they do like each other on some level, it does not feel like they will make it, the ending having a slight awkward The Graduate feeling to it, though not nearly as poignant). Whether or not relationships in the film (primarily the one of the main characters) accurately mirror the current state of dating or not is secondary to their comparison to those of romantic comedies past (a genre that in recent years has faltered for the most part). Watching this film leaves an overall feeling of sadness while romantic comedies generally leave the audience feeling good. And so, while it is an interesting approach for Reitman and writer Elizabeth Meriwther to take (plus, in a world of remakes trying original concepts is greatly welcomed); it seems to ultimately leave the film feeling disconnected. The narrative is depressing for the most part, and yet the audience is told to laugh (and does so) throughout creating the disconnection from the deeper emotional turmoil the film is addressing. Thus, the narrative does not succeed (however, for those reading deeper into the film, Reitman does create a clashing of emotions akin to taking uppers and downers). The other issue is with the character of Adam. He really has no character. He is in a sense the ultimate straight-man allowing all those around him to be crazy. But, this is really his film and thus his character needed more. The audience only relates to him through projection of their own experiences and feelings. No Strings Attached is difficult to completely peg – it is very funny at times (though certainly geared towards a younger audience) and in being so entertaining and likable, but for those wanting more, like a complete narrative with real characters, it falls short.

Technical and acting achievements: Ivan Reitman has had a tough go of it in the last decade or so, directing mostly terrible films. Thus, it is good to see that the director who made many of my favorite childhood comedies (Ghost Busters being one of my top five favorites of all-time) actually make an entertaining film again. John Debney’s score and Rogier Stoffers’s cinematography were adequate for the type of film that this was (nothing special, but really not needing to be). However, Ida Random’s production design and sets/locations were aesthetically interesting. The cast is what really elevated this film (which is true really with any romantic comedy). Lake Bell, Chris Bridges, Olivia Thirlby, and Mindy Kaling provide good supporting work and some very funny moments. However, very good actors Cary Elwes and Kevin Kline were underused (and seemingly pointless to have an actor of his caliber in the role) and just not good respectively. Greta Gerwig and Jake M. Johnson were fantastic in their supporting roles. Both had some of the best and funniest moments; Gerwig stealing most of the scenes she was in. Ashton Kutcher plays the straight-man almost to the extent of being interchangeable with any other good looking late 20s early 30s male (though it is not completely his fault, his character was written hollowly without much emotional connection to the audience). Natalie Portman is good in the film (serving also as an executive producer), both powerful in the dramatic scenes while having great timing in the comedic ones.

No Strings Attached is probably the most entertaining and funny film to have a narrative that does not really work at all. 6/10

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