Do you think crappy potboiler rom-coms like this are a better warning for what people are like than either the artful dramas or cunning genre films we generally prefer to talk about? No Strings Attached is a sloppy, thoughtless movie; nothing better conveys the inefficient artlessness of its construction than the fact that it has three separate Baxters who act as alternate possible love interests for our two lead characters, and this extends out to its philosophy and values. The plot of the film is that Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) hook up on a whim and then try to maintain a casual sexual relationship (as they put it: sex friends, fuckbuddies, whatever). Adam functions as a character who doesn’t really know what he wants and slowly discovers it; Emma is completely incoherent and seems to bend to whatever the narrative needs her to be in the current moment. As an exploration of why people have casual sex, it’s an incurious failure.
As an exploration of people who don’t understand casual sex, it’s wildly successful. One of the useful things about looking to a movie for philosophy is that bad movies are often just as revealing as good ones. I think most people are like this movie – not particularly thinking through their outlook, not particularly interested in understanding other people’s outlooks, mostly just doing what they think they’re supposed to be doing which is a mixture of vague imitations of what they’ve seen and impulses they were gonna chase, and they project their own thoughts and desires onto other people. Articulating that means I can consider what such a person would find respectful and disrespectful and treat them accordingly. In this case, people like Adam just want to be left alone with someone they’re used to, do the standard boyfriend stuff, and have nice things said about them, and they don’t particularly care to understand the world or people around them. I don’t think Adam would be too impressed by the concept of Degree Absolute.