Julia Roberts is good white trash

Erin Brockovich is a legal drama starring Julia Roberts, Albert Finney, Aaron Eckhart, and Julia Robert’s boobs.

Directed by Steven Soderburgh, Erin Brockovich features Roberts in a dazzling array of low-cut, short-hemmed outfits. The story centres around a small town’s legal battle against the utility company polluting their ground water with hexavalent chromium.

Based on a true story, the movie follows Brockovich, a single mother of three who manages to talk her way into a job as a filing clerk/research assistant at a small law firm. She discovers some strange health problems while filing some documents on a real estate deal and, after canvassing the residents of a small town, it is clear the problems are widespread. Brockovich presents the case to her boss, Ed Masey (Finney) and after much convincing and legwork on her part, the pair take the case.

Complications arise due to Brockovich’s difficulties in finding reliable, affordable childcare for her three young children. Her problems, however, seem to be solved when a softhearted, kid-loving biker named George (Eckhart) moves in next door. George quickly becomes the requisite love-interest, and the kids conveniently cease to exist for several hours in the middle of one day while the token love scene (during which Brockovich recounts her beauty-queen past and dreams) takes place.

Roberts portrays Brockovich as a straight-talking, white-trash crusader who, after two failed marriages, doesn’t take crap from anyone. Her direct and often vulgar ways are good for both the great one-liners peppered throughout the script ("They’re called boobs, Ed") and the film’s R-rating. The banter between Brockovich and Masey is, at times, hysterical, as the two become good friends. Her common touch and genuine sincerity are the things she builds on to get the respect and trust of town residents.

However, her devotion to the case takes her more and more away from her family. George asks her to choose between him and her work, and she makes a difficult decision.

The movie is generally well-paced and entertaining, though the film lags in the middle. Still, the balance between funny scenes with Masey, dramatic work on the case, and tender scenes with George, her kids, and the sick people of the town, help retain the viewer’s attention. Since Brockovich’s lack of legal experience is insisted upon, the film is not bogged down with technical details that sometimes plague other legal dramas. Instead, it focuses on the people involved, and their real problems.

On the whole, the film is believable. Occasionally Brockovich’s attitude (her habit of insulting and swearing loudly at people with whom she disagrees) is a little over the top, as is the attention paid to her cleavage throughout the film. While there are scenes in which her unquestionable assets are useful (they get her into the file room at the water control board), the attention paid them is perhaps more distracting than a vital part of the plot.

The script also leaves the viewer with some loose ends not covered by the "true story" pieces of text at the end of the film. It is unclear what finally happens between George and Erin, and how her kids react to her continued absence. Nevertheless, Erin Brockovich is a thoroughly enjoyable movie.

Erin Brockovich opens Mar. 17.

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