In ‘No Strings’ Portman and Kutcher attempt the modern romance of our generation: The sex buddies relationship devoid of any emotional tug of war.[/media-credit]

Audiences have seen Natalie Portman as a troubled child, a prostitute, a comic book teenager and a galactic queen. With such an eclectic and highly-regarded repertoire, the multi-Golden Globe winner’s ability to ease Katherine Heigl-style into a romantic comedy comes, at face value, as a shock. However, as soon as viewers get to see the onscreen interaction between her and co-star Ashton Kutcher, acting out main character Emma with the same effortlessness and creativity seen in every other of her works, minds will be changing quicker than the Kutcher’s condom-donning in scene two.

“No Strings Attached,” a movie that she executively produced, is the first of four Portman films we can expect to see this spring – not to mention her recent grueling role in “Black Swan,” up for numerous Oscars. Viewers may wonder how she made such a quick turnaround, mentally and physically, from filming such a gripping psychotic thriller. Or, as she recently joked in a press junket interview with The Badger Herald, “How did I get fat so quickly”?

The answer likely lies within the film’s lighthearted and fast-paced script, which no doubt made working on the “No Strings” project more akin to therapy for an overstressed ballerina than just another job. The screenplay was done by youngish, playful writer Liz Meriwether and is probably the high point of the film aside from casting (Portman is a given for acting prowess, and Kutcher surely holds a candle with his goofy yet endearing demeanor).

Something seen within is the depth added to minor characters – from a slightly perverted, camera phone wielding co-worker to a gay male roommate who thinks he has adjusted to Emma’s “cycle.” Strength is given to the film from these details, as well as the larger moments of humor seen throughout – far surpassing the few funny snippets seen in the trailers, which some scant comedies try to hide behind in attempts to stack box office numbers.

The film centers on Emma, a young doctor who, ever since the untimely death of her father, has had an abrasive view of emotionally-tied relationships. Kutcher plays Adam, an aspiring TV writer living in his famous father’s (Kevin Klein, “The Conspirator”) shadow. The paths of the two main roles cross ceaselessly throughout life, beginning with an encounter at New Jersey’s own Camp Weehawken, where a young Adam fruitlessly asks Emma if he can finger her; culminating with an idealized, non-emotional “friends with benefits” adult relationship that inevitably hits several snags along the way.

If there is one word to describe one of the first wide-release romantic comedies of the year, it’s hot. More so than its Los Angeles setting, the many sex scenes central to the plot the film are steamy as they come. Best of all for a movie so sexually charged, they are also safe and consensual. Regardless of the somewhat immature jokes made by nearly every character in “No Strings Attached,” it is a distinctly mature take on an idea seen several other places right now (read: “Friends With Benefits” to be released this summer, starring Portman’s “Black Swan” co-star Mila Kunis).

The film also accentuates the unique alteration that technology has on communication in emotional and/or sexual relationships, as well, making it feel very contemporary. This modern vibe is aided by the fact that there is an infinite number of boy-meets-girl films out there that girlfriends have dragged boyfriends to see (the perpetuation of gender stereotypes unintended). The same theater-turned-prison agony will assuredly not be experienced by many males with “No Strings,” which shows both partners’ perspectives and frustrations throughout.

Regardless of which team the Iowa-born Kutcher was rooting for to enter the Super Bowl (his appearance on Good Morning America shows, unfortunately for him, that it was the Bears), his presence along with Portman’s (no NFL affiliation) make for a star-studded success, romantically as well as comedically.

Any partiality shown toward this film was influenced by Paramount’s payment for flights to and from Los Angeles, CA, one night at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills and a dazzling assortment of Spicy Tuna Rolls.

3.5 stars out of 5