Enough already with this nonsense about Friends With Benefits being the exact same movie as No Strings Attached. Yes, both films happen to be R-rated romantic comedies about attractive twentysomethings who attempt to maintain a sex-only relationship, only to face complications when feelings start to intrude — but that's where the similarities end. Don’t believe me? Here are seven crucial areas in which these polar-opposite films differ:
Female Lead No Strings Attached stars Natalie Portman, who won an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan, while Friends With Benefits stars Mila Kunis, who didn’t win an Oscar for her performance in Black Swan.
Male Lead Friends With Benefits stars Justin Timberlake, a popular sex symbol with minimal acting experience, while No Strings Attached stars Ashton Kutcher, a popular sex symbol with minimal acting talent.
The Arrangement In Friends With Benefits, the parties pledge to keep matters physical before they do the deed; in No Strings Attached, the pact isn't made till after sex has been had.
Token Gay Friend In No Strings Attached, the Token Gay Friend, played by Guy Branum, is bald and stereotypically effeminate. In Friends With Benefits, the Token Gay Friend, played by Woody Harrelson, is balding and aggressively masculine (but still unquestionably gay).
Embarrassing Parent In No Strings Attached, Kutcher is burdened by a self-centered, overly sexual, hippie-ish father, played by Kevin Kline. In Friends With Benefits, Kunis is burdened by a self-centered, overly sexual, hippie-ish mother, played by Patricia Clarkson.
Setting No Strings Attached takes place in Los Angeles; Friends With Benefits takes place in New York and Los Angeles.
Tone The tone of No Strings Attached is that of a standard rom-com, punctuated with soft-R raunch. Friends With Benefits boasts an aura of transgressiveness ... before devolving into a standard rom-com, punctuated with soft-R raunch.
Comedic Style No Strings Attached relies primarily on situational humor, supplemented with clever dialogue; Friends With Benefits relies primarily on clever dialogue, supplemented with situational humor.
There you have it. You can suss the differences yourself this weekend, when Friends With Benefits opens in theaters nationwide.
Forget Black Swan – Natalie Portman’s real crowning performance is to be found in the romantic comedy No Strings Attached in which director Ivan Reitman asks her to convey sincere unqualified affection for Ashton Kutcher. Portman much to her credit gamely complies and though she may not have the emaciated figure bloody nails and bandaged ankles to tell of her labors the psychic scars must no doubt be just as severe.
Exhibiting strong chick-flick leanings and a rambunctious soft-R comic tone (i.e. lots of F-bombs some menstrual humor and a few shots of Kutcher’s naked ass) No Strings Attached is built around a basic relationship role-reversal: The dude Adam (Kutcher) longs for a deeper lasting commitment; the chick Emma (Portman) insists on keeping matters purely physical. Emma’s motive is a practical one: As a doctor-to-be her busy residency schedule with its 80-hour work weeks and intensive exam preparations precludes a serious relationship. But alas a woman has certain needs (foreplay apparently not being among them) and who better to fulfill them than Kutcher’s non-threatening boy-toy?
Thus a “friends with benefits” arrangement is cemented whereupon the ripcord is to be pulled on the occasion that either of them develops stronger feelings. This does not last long for soon Adam is cloyingly lobbying for escalation. Emma demurs – not out of disinterest we are told but because she’s intimacy-averse and afraid of a broken heart. Why else would she resist a more permanent attachment to someone like Adam?
Perhaps it’s because Adam as played by Kutcher is about as interesting as cabbage. And yet No Strings Attached would have us believe he’s some kind of floppy-haired Albert Schweitzer. This despite the fact that his greatest aspiration in life is to join the writing staff of a High School Musical-esque television series the shallow inanity of which is one of the film’s recurring jokes. In vain support of his cause the filmmakers decorate Adam’s apartment with various props – vintage posters books about 1920s movies a guitar that is occasionally picked up but never actually played – that hint at a depth that Kutcher himself never manifests.
Still Portman sells us on Adam and Emma’s inevitable union with every ounce of her not inconsiderable talent. (And her comic chops are legit – as those who’ve glimpsed her appearances on SNL and Funny or Die can attest.) But she asks too much. And Elizabeth Meriweather’s script while witty and stocked with some keen observations on the evolving nature of relationships in the modern age becomes weighed down by sentiment unbecoming an R-rated comedy not directed by Judd Apatow. In the end Kutcher seals the increasingly contrived deal with the climactic line “I’m warning you: Come one step closer and I’m never letting you go ” (I’m paraphrasing but not loosely) by which time the film's already lost its grip.