A few years back, I cited “Crazy/Beautiful,” an underrated cinematic gem from 2001, as my favorite romance movie. That movie, which I feel has aged better than similar movies from previous decades, has a special place in my heart and it always will. It was the first romance movie that I genuinely enjoyed as both a movie and a love story.
However, I’m here to announce that my ranking has recently changed. I still love “Crazy/Beautiful,” but it is no longer my favorite romance movie. That rank now belongs to “No Strings Attached,” the sexy romantic comedy from 2011 starring Ashton Kutcher and future Thor, Natalie Portman. As of this moment, it’s a rank that will be very difficult for any future movie to top.
The premise of “No Strings Attached” and how it became my favorite romance movie is a remarkable story, in and of itself. This is one of those movies I didn’t expect to be so impactful. I ignored it when it initially came out in theaters. The premise sounded generic and it didn’t help that a similar (and inferior) movie called “Friends With Benefits” came out at the same time.
It’s a common romance trope. Two people decide to eschew traditional dating methods and just stick to sex. They don’t want anything serious. They just want steady, enjoyable sex, minus the complications that relationships bring. It starts off fun and sexy. Then, things get serious when emotion and jealousy enter the picture. Eventually, both characters realize they love each other and that’s the end of that.
It’s not an overly elaborate premise for a love story. I’ve written more than my share of those as an aspiring erotica/romance writer. The problem is it’s rarely done right. It’s also painfully predictable. It’s next to impossible to evoke a when the conflicts and resolutions are so obvious. That was what made “Friends With Benefits.”
That was also why it I didn’t bother seeing “No Strings Attached” for years. I thought it seemed too generic. Then, on a whim, I decided to check it out on Hulu. I fully expected to turn it off halfway through once the plot settled into familiar patterns. I freely admit I was dead wrong. I pre-judged this movie and that was a mistake on my part.
By the time the credits rolled, I was smiling from ear-to-ear and shaking my head in disbelief. This movie did something I didn’t expect it to do. I didn’t even think it was possible, given the sheer volume of romance I’ve written and consumed. It struck all the emotional chords it needed to and then some. Most romance movies these days are lucky if they can strike just a few.
To appreciate this, you can’t just look at the movie through its general plot summary. However, what makes this movie stand out is how it navigates this premise through its two main characters, Emma Kurtzman and Adam Franklin.
Before these two characters ever start having sex, the movie takes time to establish who they are and why they and Emma aren’t just a couple of attractive strangers who cross paths and decide they like casual sex. They’ve actually known each other for years, albeit informally.
The first 10 minutes of the movie are dedicated to showing that they both end up in such a frustrating place in their senior match reviews personal lives. Adam just broke up with his girlfriend, Vanessa. Then, his father, a former TV star, decides to start dating her. Naturally, that leaves him pretty messed up.