ERIN BROCKOVICH, 2000
Director: Steven Soderbergh
Stars: Julia Roberts, Aaron Eckhart, Albery Finney
Review by Jeremiah Benjamin
An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city's water supply.
A triumphant story (and a true story) about a down-on-her-luck independent woman who, with all odds against her, manages to get herself a clerical job at a small law firm and ultimately become instrumental in an environmental lawsuit against Pacific Gas and Electric Company of California. The main character -- the underdog archetype -- is instantly likeable as a struggling single mother who can barely pay her rent.
The movie deals with themes of self-respect, gender roles, prioritization of family versus career juxtaposed with the larger-scope of morality concerning corporations deceiving the public and environmental issues. One fascinating sub-plot in this movie is the romance Julia Roberts' title character strikes up with a man who is first introduced as her neighbor, a teddy-bear of a man who looks like a tough biker dude on the outside, and although he takes on the domestic role of volunteering to be her nanny and spend his days taking care of her kids while she's fighting her battles at work (the method by which he wins her heart), a facet of his character still holds onto his bad-boy Harley-Davidson-riding masculinity that is hinted at in a few scenes.
The concept of the gender reversal of a burly macho man keeping house for a high-powered business woman was nothing new to the audiences that went to see Erin Brockovitch in 2,000, having grown up on such hit sitcoms as Who's The Boss in which a muscular pro baseball player serves as housemaid to a female advertising executive; this gender role reversal was well integrated into the zeitgeist.
Whether or not that romance B-story was an accurate derivation from the true story of Erin Brockovitch that inspired the movie (I purposely ventured not a single mouse-click to research that because the artistry of adapting a true story into a movie lies in the screenwriter's selection of which pieces of the actual event to include, which pieces to ignore, which pieces to embellish, etc. in crafting a dramatic story arc that best serves the importance of the true event while staying true to the filmic medium, so whether the screenwriter culled that detail from real life, from her imagination or anywhere in between doesn't matter; I say bravo and job-well-done for conceiving that story-line wherever it came from, now let's chat about it), the first important detail to point out is his character, as we find out very early on in his introduction, is unemployed.
Erin Brockovitch is unemployed when we first meet her, which causes her enough distress to catalyze the entire movie, and her job becomes the most important thing in her life. This contrast with his contentedness over being unemployed and his eagerness to take on the duties his culture would brand as feminine is at the core of the interpersonal story this movie deals with. But I digress. Overall, Erin Brockovich is a triumphant powerhouse of an underdog story, and brilliantly executed on all levels.
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