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Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich

Steven Soderbergh

USA , 2000

Credits

Review by Jenny Jediny

Posted on 03 July 2006

Source Universal DVD

Categories Chick Flicks

In 2000, actress Julia Roberts gained reasonable critical acclaim in Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich, the “based on true events” story surrounding a divorced mother of three with no legal training who successfully brought Pacific Gas & Electric to trial for groundwater contamination in California. A well-crafted film, this is certainly Roberts’ best performance, utilizing her Southern genuineness and ability for quick retorts. Not conceived as a chick flick, Erin Brockovich remains popular among women, and perhaps singularly due to its star. With her persistently gleaming and unmistakable grin, Julia Roberts holds tightly to her title of “America’s Sweetheart” and is a juggernaut actress of the chick flick. Although she has attempted numerous genres, Roberts remains most popular with audiences in this category despite the mediocre films (see Runaway Bride, Mona Lisa Smile, etc.).

Recalling the marketing for the Erin Brockovich, a specific angle was prominently played up, namely Roberts’ breasts and revealing outfits. In the trailer and promotional stills, Roberts had suddenly gone up two cup sizes, a change evident in nearly every outfit worn in the film. The push up bra, along with the miniskirt and non-synthetic fabrics recalls attire associated with Roberts’ popular role as a prostitute in 1990’s Pretty Woman. A decade after skyrocketing to fame as Vivian Ward, Roberts was once more showing skin, but now as the single mother who merely looks like a hooker (with the requisite heart of gold). The similarities between the two films are intriguing, as both put a modern spin the on Pygmalion plot; a single woman struggling to make ends meet suddenly strikes up a relationship with an older, financially stable man who finds her not only funny, but worthwhile company. She is simultaneously snubbed and condescended to by people associated with this man, as they consider her low class and uneducated, and yet she bests them with both her resilience and snappy comebacks. Ultimately there is an obstacle that the woman overcomes with perseverance and self-reliance, while successfully retaining her personal relationships.

Understandably there is a strong tendency for filmgoers to seek out catharsis with characters they identify with, a desire that Roberts has tapped into for millions of women. Julia Roberts is extraordinarily likeable, a quality she retains continually portraying grounded women of middle to lower class. With looks more tomboyishly charming than sexy and language that is always smart without being overly intellectual Roberts seeks accessibility with her female fans. The attire in both Pretty Woman and Erin Brockovich stand out even more so for this reason, as Roberts is far from intimidating with her provocative neckline, and instead identifiable and sympathetic as a struggling single mom. The fascination with the hooker with the heart of gold seems to be embodied best in Roberts; there is no threat of STDs or unwanted pregnancy with this woman, but instead simply good clean fun. Would Erin be as endearing if Julia Roberts did not portray her? Picture Laura Linney in the role, and the character might appear far bitchier to some audience members, rather than sassy.

Erin Brockovich’s divergence from stereotype is that as Erin, Roberts never puts the hooker clothes in the closet in favor of designer or conservative outfits. Even at the conclusion of the film, Roberts remains in her revealing ensembles (although the blue eye shadow has thankfully disappeared in favor of more natural make up); this is consistent with the real Ms. Brockovich, who never saw reason to dress any way other than how she felt comfortable. This refusal to adopt the attitude or opinions of others elevates the character; no one in the film, male or female, weakens Erin in either her personality or her dedication to the people she is working for, the victims of PG&E. This may also be the best of Roberts’ acting abilities as in her own way, she has continued to maintain a similar consistency in her roles and audience appeal, a talent that has cemented her position as Hollywood’s highest paid actress.

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