SO Painfully Overrated
Date of Assessment: August 13, 2010
Positive Buzzwords: Friends in high places, Oscar, romcom
Negative Buzzwords: Overrated, self-important, romcom
The Case: Let's get this out of the way upfront -- I just don't like Julia Roberts, but I do concede that diplomacy would be better served by supporting one of the few Hollywood actresses who has passed the age of 40 and hasn't been shuffled off towards the nearest assisted-living facility. Yet the simple fact remains that I'm one of the few who still doesn't quite grasp how Roberts' performance in Erin Brockovich resulted in an Academy Award for Best Actress (although it's rather impressive that this award coincided with a $20 million salary). No one has ever heard me head off towards the theater while shouting, "Hey look, it's Julia Roberts!" And when Spielberg cast her as Tinkerbell in Hook? Don't even get me started.
The sheer fact of the matter is that I want to like Julia Roberts but just can't manage to muster up the desire to do just that for such a repeatedly pompous display of self-indulgence (for a much more well-articulated perspective on this issue, check out this Ocean's Twelve analysis from our own Daniel Carlson). Although I do suppose such an aura of self-importance could be a by-product of enduring for two decades in Hollywood as a frantically sought-after commodity. Those days might soon be over, however, for Roberts isn't exactly a box-office draw these days. Both of her 2009 outings -- Charlie Wilson's War and Duplicity -- failed to even recoup her salary on opening weekend. Obviously, war dramas are tough to sell, and neither of these movies were romcoms -- the bread and butter of her career -- but there's simply no excuse for why audiences didn't flock to see Duplicity when they showed up for her previous thrillers like Sleeping with the Enemy, The Pelican Brief, and Conspiracy Theory. Hell, Duplicity was even marketed with very unsubtle references towards a love-hate chemistry between Roberts and Clive "Super Tiger Sex Commando" Owen, and that still didn't make people want to watch it. After these two consecutive cinematic misses, the commonsensical conclusion is that Julia has lost her golden touch.
Still, she's had an undeniably productive haul. For a good decade-and-a-half, Roberts was an unmistakable box-office tour de force. She could bring in audiences as a leading lady in romcoms (My Best Friend's Wedding, Notting Hill, America's Sweethearts), and she had the good sense (not to mention the connections) to sign onto high-powered ensemble projects (Ocean's Eleven, Ocean's Twelve) that couldn't help but succeed and, therefore, help her maintain that lucrative box-office reputation (despite flops such as Mary Reilly). Mostly, Roberts was like Meg Ryan but with the added ability to transcend genres, so long as she periodically made a steadfast return to the romcom routine that made her a star. Although Mystic Pizza and Steel Magnolias came beforehand, Pretty Woman is what caused audiences to take notice of Julia Roberts. It wasn't a movie that made for much actressin,' but she was able to showcase her mile-long legs, somewhat infectious laugh, and chemistry with Richard Gere. Even though Pretty Woman was essentially just another clichéd and mindless entry into the "rich man gets a boner; subsequently feels generosity and love towards hooker" school of insidious filmmaking, the movie still persists as a guilty pleasure of many DVD junkies. This phenomenon continues to nurture those "warm and fuzzy" feelings for those women (and men) who have grown up watching Roberts in various roles. As a result, nostalgia is a big factor in terms of audience affection and the appeal of Roberts on the big screen.
Nearly a decade after Pretty Woman, director Garry Marshall was able to dupe audiences into returning for another Gere-Roberts pairing with Runaway Bride. The Marshall factor was also something, I suspect, that resulted in Julia's participation within Valentine's Day, yet another lucrative pile of crap that allowed Julia to take a great portion of the credit for the financial success therein and which also paid her a $3 million salary for a whole six minutes of screen time. Now, I'm all for A-listers earning huge salaries if they truly put asses in theater seats, but how many people watched that movie on opening weekend because Julia Roberts was in it? Okay, I concede that the entire "from the director of Pretty Woman" shtick helped out. Or did Valentine's Day succeed simply because it was the only traditionally romantic movie on a February opening weekend? Stay tuned, folks.
Prognosis: This weekend's Eat, Pray, Love will probably be a modest success but land nowhere near the scale of her romcom outings, which presents a problem for an actress who recently admitted that she no longer wants to do "silly" romcoms that essentially made her the household name that she is today. The bad news for Julia Roberts fans is that she's made plenty of money and could afford to retire. The good news, for the rest of us, is that we wouldn't miss too terribly much.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at agentbedhead.com.