By connection, she's Blythe Danner's daughter, that guy from Coldplay's wife, and mother to two endearingly named children. By sight, she's tall, blond, and passionate about living a healthy life. Acting naturally is a skill far outside the realm of many actors, but for Gwyneth Paltrow each character seems to fit like a well-worn glove, there's never much posturing or casting about for nuance.
Paltrow has taken on a wide range of films, from flat-out weird choices such as Shallow Hal and View from the Top, to more seriously acclaimed fare such as P. T. Anderson's Hard Eight. Even more important than a wide range, Paltrow has a certain ineffable quality, being immediately able to put a viewer at ease. She feels like a friend, someone whom you've seen a thousand times and are comfortable around. Whether she's hamming it up as a blond bimbo or playing against her type, Gwyneth Paltrow is charming, and natural, a rare gift in a sea of over-actors and imitators.
5. Emma: Perhaps one of the best movies to watch when one is listlessly sick at home, Emma appeals to a wide range of people other than the infirm. Though lovers of authenticity may question certain aspects of this version, the truth is that making a good period piece is difficult at best, and downright impossible to please at worst. This version strikes some pleasant high notes, with the inclusion of the surprising Toni Collette, as well as Paltrow's ever-affable Emma. Emma is concerned with playing matchmaker to those around her, and a comedy of errors ensues after she herself falls in love. In typical Austen fashion, sardonic charm and grace abound amidst the flowery language and luxurious sets, and one finds plenty to love despite the obvious shortcomings.
4. Shakespeare in Love: At her best when playing radiantly beautiful, Paltrow's bashful charms are on full display here, and wholly utilized in her brash role as a woman working within the confines of Elizabethan England. Playing muse to a stymied Shakespeare, Paltrow shines in her attempts to break social barriers, and the film is charming in that so many small events found their way into the Bard's tales. There's something to be said for opulent filmmaking, and surprisingly, critics and audiences were in full agreement as the film garnered thirteen Oscar nominations as well as making bank at the box office.
3. Se7en: Another wrenching performance, as Paltrow plays sweet and diffident homemaker to Brad Pitt's street-wise, impatient, but loving, homicide cop. Paltrow exists to provide insight into Pitt's harsher character, as Morgan Freeman and Pitt build a case against an errant serial killer. Gentle and unassuming, she is held up as a mirror to everyone who's ever moved to a new city to pursue someone else's dreams, caught halfway between the old life and the new. Though she's not featured in the film extensively, it is through her looking glass that Pitt is called into sharp relief, and this sets the tone for the exhausting and harrowing ending.
2. The Royal Tenenbaums: Cherishing her ability to play sullen and surly, through the eyes of Paltrow we meet the dysfunctional Margot Tenenbaum, who hasn't felt emotions for years. Margot finds herself tied up in a loveless marriage, kept at arms length from her family, and passively moving from situation to situation without any real connection to people or places. It is only near the end of the film, when faced with the possibility of losing the one person she has ever cared for, that Margot breaks down and the effects of such loss are palpable. Paltrow plays the role utterly aloof, and nearly unrecognizable from her usual casually beautiful self, brimming with good will and charm for all. Such a departure is satisfying, as one wants to see actors and actresses change over time, and being a part of the Tenenbaums was definitely different in every way.
1. Proof: As a mathematically gifted young woman who, not only lost recently lost her father, but may also be losing her mind, Paltrow is heartbreaking in her fragility. When authorship of a very important mathematical proof is called into question, she is left to defend herself as an unknown in a world where nearly everyone is against her, including a well-meaning sister and even her own psyche.
While this film isn't as popular as the others, Paltrow turns in a tight performance, starkly frightened by the very real possibility that all she has loved will be taken from her. Jake Gyllenhaal falls into place amiably as a fellow mathematician investigating the elegant mathematical proof, and it is through his gentle prodding and support that Paltrow finds herself, as well as the truth of her father's life and work. For a film that deals with longstanding familial drama as well as the complexities of paranoia, disbelief and acceptance, the potential for disaster is always high. Yet, Proof falls squarely in the hands of the capable Paltrow, and it is unconditionally one of her best performances.