Saturday, 20 February 2010

Performances of the Decade (Female)

The biopic is a good way for a woman to get recognised, there are a few on my list. I’d probably single out 2002 and 2000 as the years with the strongest Oscar Best Actress lineup, and incidentally on both turns the winners was the woman in the biopic. Incidentally, both of these performances have suffered backlash like a number of winners but none more than the next performance I will cover. Of course, it doesn’t faze me. I am continually enchanted by this performance.
#14 Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich
"They're called boobs, Ed."

Even if Steven Soderbergh decides to retire he will always have 2000 standing as a testimony of his talents. The one double whammy of Erin Brockovich and Traffic remains as two formidable examples of his talents, and all in one year. I’ve already singled out the former as a favourite film of mine and Julia’s eclectic performance stands as driving force behind that love. Erin Brockovich is an excellent film, whether or not it is admitted and yet of the last decade no Best Actress winner – not even Theron’s Monster or Mirren’s The Queen depends as completely on their leading lady as much as Erin Brockovich depends on Julia.
The opening scenes of Erin Brockovich are a perfect showcase for Julia featuring two great scenes running almost one after the other. The first is the opening interview as Erin interviews for a job. It’s a job that she probably doesn’t want, but for the money, and you can tell that her heart isn’t completely in it, but Julia sells it completely, including that wry sidelong look as she realises there’s no chance of her getting hired. After her car accident we switch to another quasi-monologue as she’s examined at her trial. We watch Erin/Julia as she feigns virtue and we watch as slowly the true Erin – hard as nails and sharp as ever – slowly comes forth. What makes these images of harshness from Erin so much more powerful is the scene immediately after the trial where we switch to her and her sick daughter. Her deception at the store to get that cough medicine is comical and sad all at once, and it’s a testimony to Julia’s talent that not only does she make it work, she makes it resound.
The running loop throughout the narrative is Erin’s devotion to her children and regardless of how far out she goes in her quest we never doubt this unwavering devotion. It’s this devotion to her children that makes George so attractive to her, and it’s a key part of Julia’s brilliance in the role. The film is the David and Goliath story and it’s the rare person that cannot relate to the candour and sheer enthusiasm of Erin. But Erin is not perfection; and Julia is not afraid to show us that. We watch, sometimes cringing, as Erin (sometimes impassively) crushes everyone in her way. It’s not exactly that she has a mean streak, but she’s resolute in her quest and she doesn’t allow for comprises. Julia doesn’t sugar coat this.
From start to finish Julia impresses as Erin. Is the role tailor made for her? Possibly. Could anyone have done it as well? I doubt. Before and since Julia has contributed some great roles to film, but Erin Brockovich is that rare gem of a role that comes along that defines (and redefines) an actors’ career. It’s Kate’s Tracy Lords, it’s Julie’s Maria Von Trapp, it’s Jane’s Bree Daniels. Julia’s Erin is in no way better (or worse) than these. It’s the role I remember her most for, it’s the role I remember most steadfastly from 2000, and without inhibition I regard it as one of the great treasures of the last decade.
Has time made you think otherwise, or do you still appreciate Julia’s Erin?


Nigel said...

"I used to be a beauty queen,you know that? A fuckin beauty queen"

I love that scene. Classic example of a Good Woman Down----and Julia's emotions couldn't be more real

CrazyCris said...


I don't think I've seen it since the big screen... will definitely have to rent this again one day soon!

Caz from Lets Go To The Movies said...

I love Julia Roberts, and I think her performance in this film is just brilliant. I see it as a performance that you forget how good it is until you watch the film again, the range of emotions she shows and really has you willing her on to suceed shows a great performance.

Emma said...

I LOVE this performance. Julia is amazing.

MrJeffery said...

I actually really love this film. Soderbergh directed it perfectly and Roberts was cast well in the role. She isn't an amazing actress but I think does better with out-of-her persona parts (a la Closer and this).