The two meet again 10 years later at a college party rife with the traditional characteristics of any college party caught on celluloid. Her name is Emma (Natalie Portman) and his Adam (Ashton Kutcher). She is a student at MIT who is visiting her college friend in Michigan. Adam locks eyes with her from across the room and tells her immediately that he likes her. She invites him to a funeral, referring to it as a “stupid thing” she has to attend. He agrees and the two hookup, in a scene that remains unseen, and they split ways again. Another year goes by, he has a girlfriend and she still single, and again they run into each other. Man, are these two destined for one another. Portman and Kutcher, though, are a likable pair, and prove to be a somewhat believable couple who would mingle in sexual affairs.
All of this, as confusing and time-consuming as it seems, is all played out within the first 10 minutes of the film. Director Ivan Reitman, who was once a revered director during the 1980s with Stripes and Ghostbusters, manages to capture the sexual obsession of numerous of other comedies, as well as the boatload of friends the boy and girl each has. He endows his main characters with knowledge that only pertains to sex and alcohol. Their aspirations are limited to those things as well. The minor characters are blessed with conventional ideas of stock characters (Ludacris, Greta Gerwig, and Mindy Kaling). But Reitman’s one original idea is that he allows the female to be consumed with sex while the male is opened to a sufficient relationship.
In the film’s ordinary time Emma and Adam, after having sex with each other countless times, want to keep their relationship (is relationship even the proper word?) limited to only sex. That is it. Have tons of sex with the hope of not becoming affectionate with the person you’re having sex with. They both consent to this relationship; one where there could be no strings attached at all. In a relationship lacking candlelit dinners, romance, chocolates, and intimate conversations, sex becomes the natural stimulant. But why? Adam is rich, handsome, and funny. No girl would find the ability put off a relationship with him. He shows no signs of ignoring a potentially legitimate relationship with Emma. Maybe it is because his ex-girlfriend (Olivia Thirlby) is now dating his father (Kevin Kline). As Adam proves to be ready to settle it is Emma who is hindering any possibility of a romantic future.
Emma by this is evidently psychologically disturbed. Her neglecting any form of intimacy and long-term happiness with Adam is never discussed. And it is to our detriment. Maybe Reitman believes her problem is beyond his direction or beyond the film’s capacity to acknowledge it. This film isn’t capable of dissecting her problem. Portman realizes this and coasts along, offering no substantial insight into her character as she did so well in Black Swan. The script by Elizabeth Meriwether fights off any notions of thinking while indulging in the morally deplorable. And no one involved in the film expresses any concern, permitting its characters to succumb to an immoral state. Emma and Adam inhabit a world where no sense of relationship exists. No one aspires to attain anything sacred.
No Strings Attached is an insignificant film with an insignificant theme. Ivan Reitman, who sinks into abashment here as he tries to emulate his son Jason’s sophisticated romantic comedies, has no problem in crafting a skillfully inept film that is devoid of any sensuality and renders itself proportionally distasteful within its first ten minutes.