“No Strings Attached”
 
            The classic romantic comedy is now working backwards.  Instead of friendship leading to personal attraction leading to romance leading to physical intimacy, this one does the reverse.  And the weird part is that it feels almost normal.
            Adam and Emma meet each other in summer camp, in high school, when he’s moping about his parent’s divorce and she’s trying to offer comfort, but obviously, any personal connection, or display of affection, even an arm on the shoulder, makes her uncomfortable.
            Later, in college, they happen to meet at a frat party, where Adam (Ashton Kutcher) is enjoying the wild whooping scene (it’s a pajama party, and girls are encouraged to wear racy lingerie, and of course, to get as drunk as possible).  Emma (Natalie Portman) is just visiting, but she’s already a serious pre-med student, and is not impressed with all the dissolute carousing, though she does ask Adam if he’ll accompany her tomorrow.
            It turns out to be her Dad’s funeral service.  Adam, though dressed inappropriately, and badly hung over, actually acts mature, and consoles her family, and is a serious, somber presence for Emma, whom he barely knows.
            Fast-forward again, to adulthood.  They encounter each other by happenstance---he now works as part of the production crew for a television show, and she’s now an overworked resident at the hospital.  But neither has forgotten how the other one was there when they needed someone, so they promise they’ll call each other. 
            It doesn’t happen.  Adam’s dating someone, and Emma is just too busy overworking to think about personal entanglements (and besides, she’s still averse to emotional intimacy, anyway).  But one night, Adam discovers that his wastrel Dad (Kevin Kline) is now dating his ex-girlfriend, and he’s determined to get plastered. Desperate for companionship, calling every girl on his cell phone directory, the only one who responds is….Emma.  The next thing Adam knows, he wakes up in a strange apartment, naked on the couch, bleary-eyed and not remembering anything about the previous evening.  After being surprised by the other 3 roommates, finally, Emma appears, and explains that nothing really happened, other than Adam making a complete fool out of himself.
But his neediness and her willingness together lead to a strange arrangement:  they meet for sex only.  On demand.  No emotional involvement.  No pressure.  No expectations.  No declaring the other as an emergency contact.  (Yes, we’ve seen this premise before, recently:  Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal in “Love And Other Drugs,” but that one was darker, and more explicit.) 
            We all know what’s going to happen next:  one, or both, is going to start caring for the other one, and mess up a nice, mutually beneficial clinical arrangement.  They both have a mortal fear of winding up spooning (like an old married couple?), or hugging in public (too common and familiar), or, blech, holding hands (too hackneyed?).  So part of the irony-comedy is that they are frequently sexually intimate, but can’t stand the least little acknowledgement of a personal connection.  When Adam finally decides he wants to “get real” with this relationship, she balks, claiming that was never part of the bargain.  So, in the old-fashioned parlance, she resists when he tries to make an honest woman out of her?
            Ah, romance.  This one is funny, and charming, and yes, we want to root for the cute couple who can hardly figure out how to make it work, but still, for us old-fashioned romantics, it feels backwards!
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas