You know, we'd never really thought much about it until we read the following paragraph of Dana Stevens's review of Brothers over on Slate:
Here I come up against what I'm fully willing to admit may be a personal limitation: I can't stand Natalie Portman. I've never believed her in a single role. She evokes no emotional response in me beyond, "Oh, there's Natalie Portman." She doesn't overact or underact; she just stands around with whatever the appropriate expression for the scene seems to be on her sweet, pretty, childlike face.
Come to think of it, Stevens might be onto something!
Off the top of our head, we'd be hard-pressed to name a film that Natalie Portman gave a better performance in than Beautiful Girls. Okay, maybe her work as a Lolita-type in The Professional or her manic pixie-dream-girl turn in Garden State could give Beautiful Girls a run for its money, but regardless, all of these performances require very little for Portman to do except to mix some seductive eyelid-batting with the occasional outburst of petulance. That's not to say that Portman is without her charms as an actress; in Brothers, David Edelstein says that "her immediacy keeps you glued to her face," even though she's embodying the kind of role that generally "turns actresses into dullards." But at this point in her career, it's tough to argue that even in the face of taking on a part that requires her to shave her head, the most powerful accessory in Portman's bag of tricks is still her beauty.
Let's Get Emotional in the Snow [Slate]