You heard it hear first: Natalie Portman is the next Hugh Grant.
When you hear “Hugh Grant movie” you think romantic comedy, starring a charming and slightly disheveled bloke who will stumble all over himself before finally landing the girl and apologizing for not recognizing how much of an ass he’s been the entire film. Audiences smile, chuckle, marvel at the black taxicabs of London, and want to reach up on to the silver screen to muss up his hair. And then maybe strangle him for that whole Elizabeth Hurley / Hollywood hooker thing.
Five years from now, when you hear “Natalie Portman movie,” you’ll think of a slightly arty yet accessible film that stars a charming, disarming, naive-on-the-outside, knowing-on-the-inside young woman that seduces the leading man and by the end of the film holds all the cards. Think The Professional. Think Beautiful Girls. Think Garden State. Think Closer.
Closer could have been a good movie. I’m not sure that Nichols could have made a great movie from the original play, but he could have at least made a good one. He almost succeeded. Jude Law is reasonably convincing as the puppy dog obit writer; you think Julia Roberts is phoning it in until you realize that that’s her character (how convenient!); and Clive Owen chews up the scenery with his “I’m an ACTOR!!” portrayal of the victim-turned-aggressor dermatologist. But Natalie Portman wasn’t right for this movie. She seemed in over her head, and compensated by trying to mold the tough, streetwise Alice character into yet another Natalie Portman Role.
There’s a line near the beginning of the film, when Dan (Jude Law) is explaining to Anna (Julia Roberts) why he prefers her character over Alice (Portman): “because you’re a woman, and she’s a girl.” I fear that Portman, even when she’s trying to play the woman, will still be reprising her role as Marty from Beautiful Girls -- the precocious girl next door. I’m just waiting for the movie where that girl lives next door to Hugh Grant, and then we’ll know exactly what we’re in for.