By leaps and bounds, the worst genre in Hollywood right now is the Romantic Comedy. They’re rarely romantic or comedic, except maybe in the most basic definition of the latter word (which only implies that no one dies). More often than not, they’re written along one recycled storyline populated with barely defined characters.
Having this low standard to live up to, No Strings Attached feels like a relative work of truth and beauty. It won’t go down as the great redeemer of its genre, but it nails the fundamental aspects of a Romcom and, for once, your boyfriend won’t complain about being dragged to a chick flick.
Or is it even a chick flick? It never exactly subverts the traditional, girly notion of love in most Romcoms, but No Strings Attached goes out of its way to not fit in. You can tell from its first scene – at summer camp, a couple of not-quite-star-crossed lovers sit by the lake, either one trying to get up the courage to make a first move. “My parents are getting a divorce” says the boy, and the girl responds with as comforting a reply as she can come up with. Curt, the boy comes back “Can I finger you?”
This was the point at witch it became pretty obvious No Strings Attached wasn’t going to be just like its contemporaries, where Katherine Heigl tries to look past her own perfectness to be happy. Despite starring Ashton Kutcher as the male lead, who starred alongside Heigl in last year’s Killers, No Strings Attached is sweet enough in nature to work as the film it wants to be.
We get Adam (Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) as a couple of friends-turned-fuckbuddies that get hot-and-heavy pretty quick. But as they become closer to each other, Emma begins to worry – she’s bad with relationships, and she doesn’t want to deal with inevitable heartbreak. Actually, this character feels like it could have been played by Heigl; but Portman’s better than that, and the film is at its best when the actress gets to work with encountering these fears. Kutcher has proven successful in innocuously goofy roles, and he holds up his own end, even if that end isn’t as interesting.
But it can’t totally avoid the genre conventions that drown most of its counterparts. The film is held back by structuring you’ve seen in almost every Romcom – you know, like this:
– “Hey, we like each other!”
– “Hey, we love each other!”
– “Hey, we hate each other!”
– “nah we love each other lol.”
And its sense of humor, although refreshing and welcome for the genre, never kicks it into Apatow levels of hilarity like it’s trying to. Really, the entire film feels like a sub-Apatow production.
But when you can walk out of a movie having liked the characters, getting to laugh and and, very simply, having had a good time, I’m not going to complain. Especially when it’s a Romcom.