Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Erin Brockovich Proves You Can Hate the Main Character, but Still Love the Film

Written by Susannah Grant
Directed by Steven Soderbrgh

Let me say right off the bat that I don’t like the character of Erin Brockovich in this film. I don’t know how true to the real person it is, but the chip she has on her shoulder for anyone who’s educated and/or wears a suit really wore on me about halfway through. Did it not ever occur to her that she was looking down her nose at them just as much as she seems to believe they are at her?

There are other problems with this film as well. As I began researching the background for this review, I came across a few problems with the story portrayed here. Check out the website for the real story. One of the depictions in the film is that Brockovich just picks up on the cancer story all on her own, when in actuality the job of talking with the residents of Hinkley, California is turned over to her by her boss.

That said, this is a good movie. It just isn’t true.

Julia Robert’s Erin Brockovich encounters lawyer Ed Masry (portrayed by Albert Finney) when he takes on her auto accident case and loses. Though it is really Erin’s fault that the case is lost, Erin manages to make the good-hearted Ed feel guilty and give her a job in his firm. Her job is to file. However, she begins to read the files – not necessarily a bad thing at all.

When she finds some strange medical records in a real-estate file, Erin begins her crusade. She bullies Ed into taking on the case of the people of Hinkley, California versus Pacific Gas & Electric (who were, I am sure, positively thrilled that this movie came out).

What makes the movie good is that Erin is not portrayed as a saint. She’s a marginal mother; leaving her children first with “the chicken fat lady” and later with her neighbor and soon-to-be lover, a biker/sometimes construction worker who genuinely likes the kids. Erin doesn’t mind using her body and her sex to get what she wants. She abrasive and rude. At one point she calls Conchata Ferrell’s character, Office Manager Brenda, “Krispy Kreme”.

What she does do good, however, is relate to the people of Hinkley. They talk to her because they feel like she’s one of them, rather than some fast-talking “suit”.

I couldn’t help but laugh sometimes at Erin’s brashness, while at other times I cringed. I was pretty much thought of as the unconventional one when I worked in an office, but I could never imagine treating my co-workers and boss with the complete lack of respect Erin displays here.

It works better when we see Erin as an intelligent woman who never had the opportunity to get the education she so deserved. She was a beauty queen at one point. That may mean that she “cruised” through school the same way many athletes do; never focusing on the subjects at hand, yet being passed by the teachers. It may mean that her parents told her not to worry about her education at a time when her looks could secure her a “decent man” to take care of her (never mind that she’s now had two marriages with little or no alimony or child support to show for it). We don’t know the reason behind it, but we can see that this is a smart woman when she takes the chip off of her shoulder.

The performances here are perfect. I give credit to director Steven Soderbergh who keeps the performances on track and the movie flowing without a descent into self-pity on the part of Erin or anyone else. Ed does not cry out for someone to rescue his firm when he’s in over his head in costs. In the one scene where it is depicted, he is simply stating a fact. Erin makes no apologies or excuses for why she is neglecting her children; she wants the respect she believes this case will give her and says it. (Never mind that if she treated people decently, she could earn the respect that way.)

However, I don’t believe that Julia Roberts’ performance was Oscar-worthy. That’s not to say she didn’t give a good performance in the role; I just don’t see what she brought to the part over a myriad of other actresses. That is my definition of an Oscar-worthy performance: when the actor or actress makes the role their own. This may have been one of the better performances of her career, but there was nothing in her performance that stood out over her work in Pretty Woman or Steel Magnolias. Either the field of nominees that year was particularly dull or she was given the nod on the scope of her work rather than just this performance.

I enjoyed the Bonus Material on the DVD, even if it continued the fallacy that this is a true story. The Spotlight – On Location tells all about the making of the movie. It contains interviews with the actors, directors, writers, and the real Erin Brockovich-Ellis.

There is also a short biographical piece on the real Erin Brockovich, although most of this material is repeated from what is in the Spotlight – On Location piece.

The deleted scenes, however, are a gem. Many of them are scenes which I wish were included in a longer, director’s cut. That’s not to say that this movie is short by any means. It is a long film already, but I thought the deleted scenes added quite a bit to what was going on. There is quite a bit deleted showing Erin and Ed’s involvement emotionally with the plaintiffs. The entire subplot of Erin becoming sick after investigating the case was deleted as well.

These scenes can be watched with the director’s comments which I did and found interesting. It consisted mostly of his reasoning for cutting the scenes when the movie was running so long already.

Also included on the DVD are the usual Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Cast & Filmmaker Biographies, and some “Coming Soon” previews of soon-to-be-released DVDs.

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