Erin Brockovich. A gaseous, trite star-vehicle wherein Julia Roberts gets to play working class via trashy clothing and a foul mouth. In essence, she reprises her wardrobe from Pretty Woman. But she’s a good gal underneath that rough exterior, a moll bruised by bad men, and a mother who neglects her children only to tend to the people who really need her – Californians who have been poisoned by Pacific Gas & Electric and their evil design to put chromium into their groundwater.
Like Don Quixote dressed for a red light district, Julia teaches us she is smarter than lawyers, heart is what matters, she can get anywhere with a little cleavage, and, everybody who ever crosses Erin Brockovich is a tight, humorless, prig who has underestimated her pluckiness, to their ultimate misfortune.
Naturally, the PG&E people are faceless, stupid drones, who Erin confronts and morally upbraids in a settlement meeting; her co-counsel is the tightest, most frigid of shrews, who Erin bests with her superior knowledge of the case file (and the inelegantly communicated fact that Erin is not frigid); her boss is an addled schmo who is a much better man with the likes of Erin in his corner; her coworkers are mean, fat cows who envy Erin for her lean legs and prominent breasts; and everyone else is just in the sway of her estimable bosom, brawn and benificence.
And the victims, yea God, the victims. Stephen Soderbergh lards this experience with 5 or 6 sit-downs during which Erin learns yet again how many children have been lost, how many tumors have cropped up, and how many chemotherapies have been delivered, so she can empathize and show us all why she does what she does.
These working class hero tales almost always fail because Hollywood demands the canonization of the little folk. Contrast Erin Brockovich and its falsity with A Civil Action, where the little folk still remain humble and stoic (it has Kathleen Quinlan, who has trademarked humble and stoic), but at least we get to see the hubris and idiocy of their lawyer, John Travolta.
The best part?
In real life, Brockovich’s beau (played in the film by Aaron Eckhart), along with one of her ex-husbands, attempted to extort money from her after she hit it big. And those poisoned by PG&E? Many of them (650 in all) are suing their lawyers because their slice of the pie ($333 million) was not, to their mind, large enough. And Brockovich herself is currently investigating the mysterious illness causing facial tics and verbal outbursts that started among 12 teenagers in Le Roy, N.Y.
God I love the little people.