A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this R-rated Ashton Kutcher/Natalie Portman romantic comedy is decidedly adult fare. It's a frank exploration of a modern-day relationship that's founded on a largely sexual basis, so you can expect plenty of unfiltered talk about sex, as well as characters shown in various states of undress and in compromising positions. There's also frequent swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"), social drinking, and references to drugs. Despite the mature content (and plenty of romcom cliches), the movie is surprisingly sweet and does address questions about commitment.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
Emma Kurtzman (Natalie Portman) and Adam Franklin (Ashton Kutcher) meet as 14-year-olds at Camp Weehawken, where Adam makes an awkward (and crass) pass that Emma turns down. Later, they run into each other at a frat party at Adam’s college, but even that moment slips away. It’s not until they get reacquainted again in Los Angeles, where Emma’s doing her residency at a hospital and Adam is working on a Glee-like TV show, that they finally become friends ... with benefits. Adam’s eager to date, but Emma’s not up for anything more than casual sex. Or is she?
Is it any good?
The set-up is standard issue and lacking in conflict, the dialogue hokey. Cliches are everywhere, including one particularly aggravating scene that has Portman’s character stuffing her face with donut holes after a romantic disappointment while listening to songs with Significance (with a capital S, naturally). Must every romcom include a scene in which women ease their heartache by overeating?
Yet NO STRINGS ATTACHED is surprisingly entertaining. Like the role or not, Portman commits to Emma, and we, in turn, commit to her. (Not so much with Kutcher’s Adam, though he’s not terrible.) The rest of the ensemble -- Mindy Kaling, Greta Gerwig, Kevin Kline, and Lake Bell -- is also impressive; they're a ridiculously talented bunch who make the usual supporting-cast peccadilloes amusing. It’s also refreshing to have the female character as the one who’s commitment-phobic, while the guy sits around waiting for his phone to ring (or ping with a text, as they do these days). All of these pluses distract from the film’s flaws, but you may still ultimately have trouble forgiving them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the idea of a "friends with benefits" relationship. What messages does that kind of arrangement convey about love and commitment? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values when it comes to dating and relationships.
What's the appeal of romantic comedies? Although they tend to follow the same predictable formula, they remain popular. Why do you think that is?