By Karen Valby
Updated December 27, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
  • Movie

What a relief it is to see Natalie Portman out of her Star Wars face paint. In Zach Braff’s directorial debut, Garden State, the 23-year-old actress returns to her roots. Like the sweet, unadorned faces who beamed through Beautiful Girls and The Professional, her character, Sam, is the film’s source of rosy-cheeked innocence. (No slouch off camera, she took a three-week break from her senior-year spring semester at Harvard for the shoot.) Playing a helmet-wearing epileptic in a pink hoodie and braids, Sam is quirky and lovable, prone to breaking out in tap dance or breaking down in pretty tears. In a less skilled actor’s hands, the character would be little more than a cute caricature of idealized first love. But Portman gives the dorky, eager young woman an actual heart to hand over to the movie’s damaged hero. ”When I’m bored, I do a really horrible job,” she told EW earlier this year. ”I realize that I have to choose stuff where I’m really fascinated by the material in order to do my best work.” The actress can ring in the New Year proud of a job well done. She’s a Hollywood star who looks best without makeup.

Garden State

  • Movie
  • R
  • 109 minutes
  • Zach Braff