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By Susannah Breslin | March 24, 2000

I hate Julia Roberts. I hate Julia Roberts so much so that every time I see her face on a screen, I want to smash it in with a big frying pan. I have never liked her, not in “Pretty Woman” and not in “Steel Magnolias,” and I find the fact that she has been nominated not once but *twice* for *Academy Awards* (it pains me to even have to write that because I find it so unbelievably and shocking *wrong*) akin to sounding the final death knell heralding the interment of the Oscars. I do not like her large and looping smile, I do not like her long and jerking legs, and I do not think she can act one bit but instead stands in front of a camera playing her beauty like it’s the best thing she’s got because it is. Nevertheless, Julia has a new movie out called, “Erin Brockovich.”
When new movies come out in Los Angeles, reviewers and huge scores of other people of utterly unknown Hollywood affiliation fill up invite-only auditoriums and movie theaters and screening rooms to watch pre-screenings of the latest arrivals. Invariably, the droves of L.A.-ites *love* the movie whatever it may be, no matter how cliché or poorly done or ramshackle in its construction, and they all like to loudly coo and clap at the films to show each other what a fine, fine piece of new movie The Industry has made today. I, myself, find going to these screenings one of the most painful parts of my existence, as it necessitates sharing a room with these people for an extended period of time, thereby physically implying some type of affiliation, albeit transient, with them.
These are the types of people who *love* Julia. They think of her as one of them–a big money-maker in this oh-so glamorous town we call Hollywood–the same way the little mall-ites think of her as one of them–a small-town girl just tryin’ to get ahead. The screening of Julia Roberts’ new movie, as a consequence, was chock full o’ excited insiders, all buzzin’ and chattin’ before the preview waitin’ to see what it looks like when Julia adds shakin’ her ta-ta’s to her list of career credits. We’ve all seen the trailers, after all, haven’t we? Julia in “Erin Brokovitch” is the real-life story of a girl who saves a bunch of poor folk in California from people who don’t care about the environment…well, f**k the plot, this movie’s about Julia yankin’ up her skirt, yankin’ down her shirt, and givin’ the masses a peek at her package(s).
The movie opens with a shot of Julia’s head, *and she’s got on light blue eye-shadow and a lot of hairspray in her hair*. This new look, Julia as trash-slut, hasn’t been seen since a pre-celebrity Julia made “Pretty Woman,” and it suffices to say the crowd was super pleased the slut was back. The black gay man on my left made a sound like, “Oooof,” when he saw it; the Kate Spade-toting production gal on my right giggled happy-like. As a murmur of excited pleasure ran through the crowd, it was apparent that Julia Roberts and her slutty “Silkwood” were going to have a fine, fine reception here tonight.
Basically, the plot (not that anyone present cared) of “Erin Brokovich” was thus: Julia Roberts gets a script based on a true-story. Julia is intrigued because it seems to her like if you make a movie that is based on a true-story, you get nominated for an Oscar a lot of the time. Julia realizes she could play the role because it’s about a woman; the fact the main character is a) smart, b) concerned with social issues, and c) white trash are all big differences between Julia and Erin that Julia figures she can act her way through. But, Julia’s not totally committed, as she points out to her agent and her manager and her makeup artist and her housekeeper, because this girl dressed like a big ho’ while she went around trying to bust PG&E for poisoning the local yokels with a toxic cocktail called, “Chromium in Your Drink,” and Julia, on the other hand, knows that she stands for “Purity,” “True Love,” and “Super Natural Sexiness.”
But, and follow with me here people because this is where it gets cultural, what Hollywood explains to Julia is that *it is okay now to play a smart-slut because that’s what all those postfeminist-era chicks out there in that place we call America are acting like*. At least, that’s what Hollywood decided when they saw Susan Faludi calling herself a “do-me” feminist and read one to many issues of “Jane” magazine. What it meant, they saw, was that actresses didn’t have to play only virgins, w****s, or mothers–they could play w***e mothers, or virgin mothers, or in the case of “Erin Brokovich” a virgin w***e mother. Hollywood was very excited about it because the new possibilities were endless and so Julia got excited too by proxy and signed on.
Needless to say, the screening crowd was so excited by Julia’s choice that it was willing to endure the blatant boredom of an eco-plot just to see Julia Roberts in: a black leather mini-skirt, a see-through shirt in tiger-pattern, and a wide-variety of bras that stuck out of every low-cut shirt she wore. Erin, it seems, was not a lawyer and didn’t look like one, but bossed and manipulated a poor lawyer played charmingly by Albert Finney (“Miller’s Crossing”) into giving her a job at his firm where she just happened to spend her time when she wasn’t emasculating her biker boyfriend played by Aaron Eckhart (“In the Company of Men”) or bossing and manipulating him into taking care of her three kids so she could go uncover just how shitty the bad people at PG&E were and how they let hundreds of people get gross and sickly before ending up in court because Erin bossed and manipulated them into being there.
Gradually, sitting in the theater with all the cool insider Hollywood people and watching Julia do her thing, I realized I too wanted to be like Erin. I wanted to dress like a w***e at the workplace, I wanted to have kids and not pay attention to them, I wanted to get a man who stayed home while I yelled at him, I wanted to be all that I could be as The New Modern Woman. Virgin w***e mother, I thought, Yeah, that’s me. Perhaps I wouldn’t have been so moved if “Sex, Lies, and Videotape” director Steven Soderbergh hadn’t been so willing to finally give up and sell out by directing Julia, or if Julia’s lines hadn’t been written by Susannah Grant who wrote my very favorite Cinderella retelling of “Ever After.” Hats off, kids, you must be so proud.
As I drove home, I realized who I had to thank for my becoming a real postfeminist chick. I can look like a w***e but act like a dick thanks to Julia, Hollywood, and a little open-mindedness in the last place I ever expected to find it. At the movies.

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