Thursday, 23 December 2010

“Lying’s the most fun a girl can have without taking her clothes off...”

“...but it’s usually better if you do.”
From Closer to Cold Mountain to Brothers to The Other Boleyn GirlNatalie Portman
Natalie Portman puzzles me. Not in the way that the cinematic appeal of, for example, Megan Fox, might confound; but in the sense that I’m never sure where I stand on her scope as an actress. It just so happened that the year I began taking a serious interest in cinema was the same year that Ms. Portman was making strides to be a “serious” actress in Mike Nichols’ Closer (or what I like to call, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf 2). When I say that find Portman’s performance in that much underrated film as the film’s least impressive, it’s not a slight at her because I think the entire quartet in the film is pretty brilliant. If I consider her Alice, though, it’s essentially encapsulates my issues with her. At her best she’s brilliant, it’s odd her strongest moments in the film are arguably the strongest of any actors, but her lowest points are also the worst – what she lacks is consistency.
Her general presence, off screen, seems so innocent it’s weird that it’s those moments of lightness in Alice that Portman doesn’t thrive in. My single favourite scene in the film is one where the quarter is on screen – in spurts, in their correct duos (Law/Roberts and Portman/Owen). They’re at Anna’s latest art showing and Larry and Alice stand at a photo of Alice. I’m always impressed at how tautly Portman manages to infuse Alice – who’s still a veritable mystery – with a striking sense of bravado while still managing to remain subtly pathetic. What’s weird is that that scene comes just before what’s probably her weakest scene, where she leaves Dan. It’s difficult to say that she’s performing poorly because Natalie, like Alice, is an enigma. I’m not sure if she’s deliberately playing the character inconsistently, or if it comes off as a possibility because Marber frames the play that way. In a way it doesn’t make sense that that’s the same girl who we met at the beginning that doesn’t eat fish because they piss where they live. (And, then again, maybe it does – sort of like a teenager trapped in a young adult’s body, but still with the emotional complexity of both.)
But still, Jude is the actor in the film she seems most comfortable with. I can’t help but think that that’s because of their history in Cold Mountain – I’ve waxed on about how impressive she is there – and that’s one of the reasons I think that she has the potential to be the consummate supporting actress*. She’s effective in small bits, but loses a bit of her intensity over time – although sometimes that works for her. I’m thinking of her work in Brothers last year which over time has turned into a performance I remember rather fondly from the year. I’m still partial to Alice, so I can’t call it her best performance – but it is the one that shows the most potential. It’s a sort of parallel with her Sara from Cold Mountain but expanded – but Sheridan is so intent on approaching Brothers with such a quiet tone that Natalie’s reticence ends up working brilliantly. Sort of like that final dinner-scene where her daughter is so vociferous about what Uncle Tommy and mommy have been doing, her reaction is almost a non-reaction in its quietness; and yet when you think back to her quiet nod of acceptance when she thought her husband had died it makes sense.
It’s the sort of serenity she thrives on which is why I’m not fond of her work in The Other Boleyn Girl. I find it difficult to compare her to her contemporary Scarlett Johansson just because they’re such polar opposites, and yet Scarlett is completely unlike her prototypical role as Mary Boleyn. Visually, Natalie is perfect for the role but I get that same feeling of doubt because she’s so very earnest in her linereadings I’m still wondering if she’s overselling it (or the character is), and I still have a palpably bitter taste in my mouth about that whole experience. (But neither she nor ScarJo is to blame, it’s a horrible film based on an even more horrible novel.) So, where I’m left at is essentially a place of uncertainty. I like Portman fine, and considering how she so often seems to slip through the cracks when people consider younger actresses I’m kind of glad to see her getting recognition for Black Swan*. I’d like to have more faith in her talent, even if the performance is as stupefying as the creditors infer I don’t think that’ll be enough. But, that’s not a slight at her. Portman’s sort of incomparable in how much of a slow burn she is – there’s loads of potential there...even if she’s still a mystery to me (just like Alice).
*This was written a few days ago, before I saw Black Swan, not that I’m revealing my thoughts on that one – yet.

(This is part of CS' feature from LAMB's Acting School focusing on Ms. Portman this month)


Jose said...

I'm still not so fond of her, I mean impressed (I'm watching Black Swan soon so let's see how that goes). She's gorgeous and everything but even on "Closer" I felt she gave the 4th best performance in the movie.

Alex in Movieland said...

come on, come on, what did you think of Black Swan? :)
I think it's overrated, and while I'm not really really liking Natalie in it, I am gladly recognizing her achievement in a very difficult role. and I'm sure the Academy will do the same.

Alex in Movieland said...

ah, yes. and Merry Christmas! :)

Castor said...

You nailed it on the head Andrew. Much like I pointed out during our top 25 actresses under 35, she often has that one or two scenes in a movie where we can see her straining to act and it completely ruins it for me. I also think she is better off as a supporting actress although her Black Swan performance will land her more leading roles.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

jose i'm kind of anxiously awaiting your words on it, because in the scope of natalie performances nina doesn't help in settling the confusion.

alex the review will be up in a few hours - two words "cold" and "beautiful". and yes, happy christmas.

castor that's the thing. you know how hollywood have that tendency to push every hot young thing as the next IT girl, as if there's something wrong with being a supporting actress. ah well. it is what it is.