Natalie Portman is this Generations...

1. Pink is to the new black as Natalie Portman is to this generation's … [insert analogous starlet/personality here]

Well.

Let's first be honest: The comparison game — the tireless search for heirs apparent in entertainment, in sports, in politics — is from the first a tricky (if tempting) enterprise. It springs from that peculiar combination of nostalgia and next-big-thing-lust with which an overarching majority of us are happily (and unwittingly?) infected. Clooney = Cary Grant. Got it. Michael + Magic = LeBron. Check.

The problem, of course, is that such equations are often mightily flawed, and unfair to one or both parties. Bron-Bron has yet to win a title. Grant, largely, was politically taciturn (and leaned Republican when not so). Moral: We're all just trying to be the best me's we can be.

And now that that twee pap's over with, let's make with the analogizin'.

Portman's a toughie. She's an unqualified, incandescent beauty who doesn't act like it. She looks remarkably like Keira Knightley, but the similarities fizzle beyond that. She's declared early and often that acting isn't "it" for her — an attitude which, while rare, has a ring of familiarity. In short, she's difficult to classify — which assertion, I get the feeling, might find her well pleased.

I'll give it a shot, though.

Giddyup. Is Natalie Portman the new …

A) Julie Christie?

Yes: This one hopped immediately to mind: Both actresses are intelligent, beautiful, short, vegetarian, foreign-born, and at least somewhat iconoclastic. Neither shies away from politics or from turning down a role, and both have expressed a pointed nonchalance about Hollywood.

No: Christie, obviously, is far better regarded as an actress. To wit: Jules said "no" to Chinatown, The Godfather, and Reds; Portman passed on Lolita and Romeo + Juliet. (But hey, she's young.)

B) Audrey Hepburn?

Yes: Widely observed. Slight, bright, gamine, and gorgeous, Hepburn and Portman probably account for more than half of the serious, industrial-strength Hollywood crushes out there. Both are/were globe-trotting humanitarians, too, and conscious of their stations as role models.

No: Now, see, I'm biased. Absolutely, Natalie's a drop-dead stunner, but no actress today approaches the arresting grace of the erstwhile Ms. Golightly. That aside, Natalie's consciously stepped away from the "ingénue" label in films like V and Closer (though, to be fair, such roles weren't as prevalent in Hepburn's day, the fact that she essentially played a hooker in Breakfast at Tiffany's notwithstanding). Plus, there's Hep's win + five nominations.

C) Jodie Foster?

Yes: Again: brainy, eminently crush-worthy, not-your-average leading ladies, but Foster gives off more of that Portmanesque, tomboy-lite, "cool-to-hang-out-with" vibe than does the regal and seemingly uber-serious Christie. Plus, both Portman and Foster were high-profile child stars who surfaced in notably challenging, Lolita-ish roles and later spurned Hollywood for the Ivy League — before making seamless comebacks.

No: And again, Jodie (she of the more varied career) rather rightly gets more props.

D) Julia Roberts?

Yes: This one, I'll allow, is a sizeable stretch. Still, there's a casual, confident, hopelessly fetching ease about both ladies that just isn't found most places. They're tough, they're cute, they're unafraid to be goofy — heartbreakers, in other words. If nothing else, Roberts is the only other actress on this list I can truly imagine doing something like this.

No: Actually, in a weird way, I think this might be one of the better matches.

Next week: Is Mary-Kate the next Ashley Olsen?

------------------------------------------

Brian Villalobos lives in Austin, Texas (practically), writes on film and TV, and totally cried at Stuart Little.

[email me]