Natalie Portman plays a great super bitch. No, seriously, she can tell someone off with all of the wrath and fury of the greatest scorned woman in the history of cinema. It’s more than just the script backing her up in No Strings Attached, but the facial expressions and aggressiveness that sells this character with no sense of moral decency or politeness.
It’s the highlight of an otherwise drab, familiar, and marginally enjoyably raunchy romantic farce, Portman teaming up with Ashton Kutcher as sex pals who slowly become something more… as if the expectation would lead anywhere else. It follows that path too, right to the point where one of the leads has to get in their car to make that last second run to salvage the relationship. That’s just not acceptable.
For a while, No Strings Attached seems like it may have an out, the film coming from the lens of the great Ivan Reitman, and a script that doesn’t miss much. While it may fall victim to creating characters who apparently have nothing better to do than talk about relationships, exchanges are funny, and nothing feels held back. The R rating is used to full effect and often, letting expletives fly almost gleefully.
Then it dies… and dies hard (not in a Bruce Willis kind of way either). The disagreement comes into play, where Portman’s closed off character just can’t bear the brunt of a real romance, pushing Kutcher away. We spend 20 minutes, maybe more, floundering around as character mope, talk about the failed love, and then rekindle it all. No Strings Attached just kills itself, losing whatever momentum it had by trying to legitimize itself under the pretenses that it’s actually doing something unique. It’s not.
No Strings Attached even has “those” side characters, the quirky friends and those who just need to tell Portman and Kutcher what they’re thinking, as if they’re too dense to figure it out themselves. All that does is dilute the leads into stereotypes, the stuff Hollywood is far too familiar with in regards to modern romantic comedies. You can have the best leads in the world, give them the best dialogue in the world, but if all they do is follow a guided path to Genericville, USA, you’re not even playing the game.
Paramount produces a pleasing encode here, and while not the shocking display of visual superiority to end all shocking displays of visual superiority, it’s clear, sharp, and defined… mostly. This AVC encode seems to struggle a bit in medium shots, skin suddenly taking on plasticy quality with what amounts to alarming frequency. It’s in complete contrast to the majority of close-ups, pleasingly resolving fine facial detail and clothing definition. Exteriors do the same, houses, plants, trees, and [insert location here] lovingly crafted in terms of high-definition brilliance.
There’s a light, natural-looking veneer of film grain situated over this one, spiking once on a Portman profile close-up and remaining unobtrusive the rest of the way. The encode is more than sufficient at keeping these qualities at bay. No Strings Attached is saturated warmly for the most part, flesh tones taking on overly orange qualities, making you wonder how Portman’s character has time to tan between her exhaustive shifts. It eventually falls victim to that dreaded teal backdrop syndrome too, further making that second hour a drag. Primaries are reproduced with a blazing intensity, a yellow Michigan sweatshirt worn by Kutcher early and the cheerleading outfits used in the TV show within the movie impossible to miss.
Black levels are nicely handled, keeping a firm hold on the image depth without losing shadow detail. Night and day exist on equal levels, the film losing none of its boldest qualities should the sun go down. Contrast is much the same, controlled and offering the image some bite. Sharpness can take a hit, seemingly a focal decision (or mistake) that intrudes on the otherwise consistent presentation. It’s as if the transfer/Reitman is cheating us out of a few close-ups that would have otherwise reproduced the fine detail hi-def fans are always looking for.
There are a ton of parties within No Strings Attached, a constant flow of gatherings reproducing tons of chatter and loud music. There’s a short bar concert at 30:36 that really gets the bass flowing, even as the characters leave to chat outside. The low-end never stops pumping out material.
The same goes for any music, the soundtrack lively in the soundfield, situating itself in the surrounds naturally without becoming overly forceful. The stereos are not just for songs either, dialogue splitting off when it has a few opportunities to widen the space a bit. Otherwise, it’s a firm center channel presentation that is quietly impressive and balanced.
Director Ivan Reitman goes solo for a commentary track, followed by the studio-standard making-of, Sex Friends. Inside the Sassy Halls of Secret High looks at how the parody TV show came together and how the cast/crew enjoyed working with it. Modern Love details the process of writing modern relationships in comparison to the past. Six deleted scenes and two alternates deliver 15-minutes worth of stuff, followed by more deleted material on BD-Live.