The Writers' Room

Will A Norbit Hurt Natalie Portman’s Oscar Odds?


If you don’t care for Natalie Portman, you may want to avoid most media outlets for a while. She has movies coming out in January (No Strings Attached, with Ashton Kutcher), February (The Other Woman, a 2009 movie which has been retitled for a new theatrical release) April (Your Highness, with James Franco) and May (Thor). Oh, and personally, she just got engaged and announced her pregnancy, both of which have received an incredible amount of entertainment coverage. Girl’s been busy. She’s probably about to get a whole lot busier, too. The Academy Award nominations are due tomorrow, and will be announced on January 25.

At one point, her nomination, and indeed, win for the Best Actress Oscar was considered a done deal. Her performance as Nina Sayers in Black Swan was critically and popularly lauded, heralded by The New York Times as a “smashing, bruising, wholly committed performance.” Recently, though, headlines questioning her chances have been popping up everywhere: Deadline asks, “Is Natalie Portman Overexposed?” and The New York Post puns “Natalie Portman’s Oscar is Hanging By a String.” The Hollywood Reporter just comes right out and asked it: “Will Natalie Portman’s Ashton Kutcher Comedy Cost Her an Oscar?” There’s enough debate that Movliene has had to say, “Enough, Already, About Natalie Portman’s Norbit.”

Um, Natalie Portman wasn’t in Norbit, right? No, but Eddie Murphy was. In 2006, Murphy surprised everyone in Dreamgirls, with his dazzling performance as James Early. I remember being boggled. This was Axel Foley? Pluto Nash? That damn donkey from Shrek? Eddie Murphy, where have you been all my life? Murphy won the 2007 Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role, and was considered a strong contender for the Academy Award. So why is the 2007 Best Supporting Actor Oscar sitting on Alan Arkin’s mantel, for his role in Little Miss Sunshine? Norbit.

The “I’m Eddie Murphy, playing the protagonist, but also a woman in a fat suit” film came out just as the Academy was voting, and was the beneficiary of a generous advertising campaign. Murphy’s loss at the Academy Awards has been almost unequivocally attributed to Norbit‘s distracting Academy voters from the actor’s heartbreaking work in Dreamgirls.

The film The New York Times is calling “Natalie’s Norbit” is No Strings Attached, a comedy in which she co-stars, and has a lot of sex, with Ashton Kutcher. Seriously, the redband trailer, which is not the one featured here — because, you know, kids — shows a lot of boots-knocking.)

The Hollywood Reporter, in weighing the potential damage No Strings Attached will do to Portman’s Oscar odds, quoted Hollywood Elsewhere blogger Jeffrey Wells, who noted, “Norbit in Eddie Murphy’s case wasn’t a one-off but an especially egregious reminder to everyone of all the pieces of shit Murphy had made in the past.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines the Acting Awards as being conferred for the “Performance by an actor/actress in a leading role” (the same wording obviously applies for supporting performances). Nowhere does this say “and All The Previous and/or Subsequent Performances By This Same Actor/Actress.” So No Strings Attached isn’t Oscar bait, and Norbit just looked awful. Why should that detract from the performances the actors have already put in?

No Strings Attached doesn’t negate the work Portman did, or the effect Black Swan has on its audiences. It’s ridiculous for the Academy to allow subsequent projects to sway votes, and even more appalling for it to consider an actor’s previous career. Is this really how it happens? I don’t know; the Academy keeps rejecting my applications, citing, “No experience in the industry” and “restraining order in effect.” Surely politics and money come into play, but this judgment of an actor’s professional career seems just plain mean. Not everyone thinks Portman is in danger, though; ABC News does remind us that “The Pregnant Woman Often Wins”. It must be so nice to be recognized for one’s art.

What do you think? Should actor’s other performances be fair game? Is the intensity of Portman’s role in Black Swan negated by a raunchy comedy? Will Yogi Bear kill any chance that The Social Network‘s Justin Timberlake might have had for an Oscar, or is the Norbit effect a non-issue?

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