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“No Strings Attached” is Apatow, devolved

No Strings Attached

Directed by Ivan Reitman

Written by Elizabeth Meriwether

USA, 2011

Blame Judd Apatow.

Before Superbad, Hollywood romantic comedies were bland, predictable and puritanical tales of quirky characters who only needed a  little push to realize that they were perfect for each other. After the smashing success of the Apatow films, romantic comedies are now bland, predictable and puritanical tales of quirky characters who only need a little push to realize they are perfect for each other, plus a lot of swearing and a lot of talk about sex. Just talk, of course, since the only thing we see in the truly terrible No Strings Attached is Ashton Kutcher’s ass.

It is embarrassing to see such a group of talented performers repeat awful, unfunny dialogue (“You eat like a baby dinosaur!”) or making strained, “topical” jokes about Facebook.  It is even worse to see Natalie Portman taking the useless talking-vagina role usually reserved for the likes of Katherine Heigl or Jennifer Aniston.  Here, she plays a character so unbelievably rude and annoying that one wonders why anyone would actually want to have a “regular” relationship with her –  not even Ashton Kutcher, who plays (get this!) a goofy yet sensitive guy who has problems finding someone to have sex with. Forty-five minutes in, they realize that it would be a great idea to just hook up and have sex with…. what is the expression? Oh, yes, no strings attached.  So the moment someone starts feeling something, they will call it quits. If you need a roadmap from here, there’s no hope for you.

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The sad part is that director Ivan Reitman (the man who regaled us with such cinematic jewels as My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Father’s Day and Six Days, Seven Nights) appears to be trying desperately to make this stinker relevant by being frank and diverse, yet the film is as sexist, racist and homophobic as any TV show from the sixties. Everyone is wealthy, but to fill the equal opportunity quota, we have an Indian friend for Portman, a black friend for Kutcher, and a Chinese kid who is always taking pictures with his phone (it is hilarious just write about him!), all of them pretty useless. She also has a gay roommate, who of course, since he is gay, he is a promiscuous queen who, wait, this is so funny, gets moody as if he was getting a period, like his gal roommates. Another character has two gay dads, and they are so funny, because they are effeminate and wear purses.  We also get another “revelation,” in which two women turn out to be lesbians… Lesbians are so funny, right? But also sexy.

It gets worse.  Every single female character here is an unstable whore in professed need of dick. (Poor Mindy Kaling of The Office calls herself a whore and a slut repeatedly, with diminishing returns of amusement.) From Portman’s character, who we are supposed to believe is an intelligent doctor, to her mom, her roommates, Kutcher’s ex, his coworkers – for all the shared f-bombs, they agree  all a woman needs to be happy is a man to bring her flowers, to snuggle and to make her a “period mix.” Best of all, this noxious chauvinism comes not from some veteran of fratboy comedy, but instead from freshman writer Elizabeth Meriwether.

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So much is wrong with No Strings Attached, but it just feels wrong keep doing this, since cataloging this wretched movie’s ills is far more entertaining than anything contained in the movie itself.  Damn you, Judd.

Bruce Arnold