To Be Real

After a string of meta-roles, Julia Roberts gets back to work in Erin Brockovich

And, come to think of it, isn't that also the story of Julia Roberts? Up to now, the actor's main reward has been commercial ratification of the highest order (her previous two films having earned a combined $250 million domestic gross), but here she's stepping into Norma Rae territory, giving a socially conscious star turn with Oscar-winning potential. Soderbergh, for his part, not only respects that ambition but roots for her success. Per the fairy-tale ending of Erin Brockovich's true story (and the conventions of the Roberts oeuvre), the star's latest character enjoys a huge payday near the end--but it's not the last scene of the movie.

Without giving much away, I'll mention that Soderbergh leaves Erin among the people, working her charms door to door--just as the filmmaker may prefer to spread his own word at the level of the homespun indie. Still, the question of where the star may go next isn't easily answered. After all, how much longer can she continue her trick of subtly surprising her audience in role after role? Or, to put it another way: How much longer can we continue to underestimate the savviest actor in Hollywood?

 

Erin Brockovich starts Friday at area theaters.

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