Ashton Kutcher, shaggy as a sheepdog, and Natalie Portman, snippy as a miniature pinscher, are pups in the kennel of lust that is No Strings Attached, and she's in heat.
Trouble is, she wants to keep the relationship strictly physical and his emotions keep getting in the way.
A broadly funny look at the difference, and distance, between hookup and connection, the film from screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether and director Ivan Reitman puts a todayish spin on two classic genres, the romantic comedy and the sex comedy.
Reversing both gender and genre expectations, Adam (Kutcher) is emotional and Emma (Portman) cut off from her feelings. They meet as teenagers at summer camp and in the intervening 15 years their paths cross at decisive moments. By 30, both are in Los Angeles. Adam, an aspiring scriptwriter, works as a production assistant on a TV show like Glee. Emma, a physician, works 80-hour weeks as a medical resident.
They hook up one hungover morning after Adam has texted every female among his cell-phone contacts to help him through the night. Because Emma has such a demanding schedule, she asks Adam to be her friend-with-benefits.
The uproarious script offers a brief glimpse of their work lives and also of the primal relationships that have stamped them. Adam's dad, a self-infatuated TV star and Casanova (Kevin Kline, quite amusing), influences Adam's rebellion to the degree that the son values feelings over sex. Emma's dad dies when she is at college and she self-protects by becoming unemotional; she won't let another man get close enough that he might trigger grief or fear of abandonment. Sex is a safe place to compartmentalize her feelings.
Kutcher and Portman have terrific screen physics, using their 12-inch height difference to considerable slapstick effect. He is a galumphing hulk who comes to heel when the munchkin barks at him. Do they have chemistry? Not exactly. But both are such gorgeous animals that their couplings are frisky fun without being sexually explicit.
With laser rather than scalpel, Meriwether's script dissects dating in the post-courtship era. Professionally driven Emma and roommates (hilarious Greta Gerwig as Patrice and Mindy Kaling as Shira) are overworked doctors lacking the time to get to know guys other than biblically. Veterans of keggers, these gals are not fluent in the dead language of dating. Precious few of the men they encounter speak it either.
Thus Patrice's "Eureka!" expression when a date opens her car door for her is priceless, like that of the cavewoman who invented the wheel. Thus Adam's horizon-scanning gaze as he takes Emma on a date is like that of Magellan circumnavigating a relationship.
Too bad that because of its sexual content, profanity, and drug references the film is rated R and isn't suitable for those under 16. Younger teens probably would appreciate a movie that suggests that getting to know each other can be more satisfying than getting it on.