Natalie Portman vs. James Franco
We pit this year's most overexposed stars against each other. Who survives, and who gets fed to the lions?
James Franco and Natalie Portman: two Ivy-league-educated, prolific, and high-profile emergent actors, at once awesome and annoying, talented and over-hyped, discerning and up for whatever. In honor of their recent collaboration in Your Highness, we thought we'd pit this year's most overexposed stars against each other, to weigh who's given us more. We're focusing on the three best and three worst roles they've each played, because these people have been in too many damn movies.
A proto-Hanna, the godmother of Hit Girl, Natalie Portman's Mathilda paved the way for our current crop of tiny female assassins. The thirteen-year-old Portman's own precocity made it believable that this child could pick up a gun and teach her friendly neighborhood hitman how to read.
V for Vendetta
Natalie Portman always works better when she roughs herself up a little bit, as proven by V for Vendetta. When the film begins, her Evey is mousey, complacent, and a bit boring. But once she comes into contact with the titular anarchist, surviving imprisonment and head-shaving, her quiet citizen becomes a hardened freedom fighter, a transition that the sometimes-dainty Portman manages to sell with surprising credibility. Even V for Vendetta doesn't quite reach the heights of its source novel, Portman fulfilled all the promise of that shorn head.
Some alleged that Portman's performance in Black Swan came closer to self-torture than acting. But whatever you call it, Portman tore through the film like an animal, her natural sweetness sharpened by months of real-life training and unpredictable moments of twitchy rage. Even if she never wins another Oscar, you won't forget the bloodshot saucers of her eyes for a long time.
Star Wars: Episode I
For someone so poised in real life (occasional goofiness aside), Portman sure had trouble playing the queen of Naboo in the prequel trilogy. In a flat performance, she comes off as a young girl playing dress-up and can hardly hold a candle to her children Luke and Leia.
Where the Heart Is
It's possible you've never seen this 2000 drama starring Portman and Ashley Judd, in which case lucky you. The meandering film features Portman as a pregnant Tennessee teenager named (brace yourself) Novalee Nation, who moves into a Walmart. Portman's "aw shucks" performance comes off more as caricature than character.
Garden State gets a lot of flack these days, and before nostalgia makes you reconsider, let me assure you: it deserves it. Portman's character never seems like anything more than an amalgamation of (annoying) quirks, let alone a real person. In Garden State, Portman gave us the definitive Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and that's not a good thing.
This is a tough decision, because both Franco and Portman have given us some excellent performances. (And some great viral videos, though that's for another feature.) So maybe we have to choose based on who's done more harm. While neither has a perfect track record, Franco's missteps mostly flew under the radar, while Portman's are justifiably notorious. And for that, it's Franco who takes the win.