Thursday, April 06, 2000

Erin, Julia display more than cleavage

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “What makes you think you can just walk in there and find what we need?”

        “They're called boobs, Ed.”

        If you haven't heard that brassy little exchange between Julia Roberts and Albert Finney from the movie, Erin Brockovich, your television must be hard-wired to the Discovery Channel. And it's not just the ads for the movie. That scene has been repeated on national news — over and over. As if it were national news.

        The Today Show's Katie Couric and Matt Lauer discuss the Erin Brockovich mammo-rama. Barbara Walters weighed in: “really not appropriate for most offices.” Diane Sawyer mentioned — with a suitably pained smirk — Julia Roberts and her push-up bra.

Toxic clothes
        USA Today featured a story about a physician in spandex and spike heels, calling her the “Erin Brockovich of rural medicine.” Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan of Martinsville, Va., says, “If I can inspire one little girl from a small town to see beyond factory life to life as a physician, I've accomplished something.”

        Oh please.

        Your clothes are beside the point, Doctor, no matter how inspirational your plunging necklines.

        As are Erin's. As are Julia's.

        This is not about a hard-working woman who goes to California and gets a job as a Victoria's Secret model. It is the true story of a woman who works 15-hour days, interviewing people with mysterious nosebleeds and cancers. She helps her dinky law firm win a $333 million settlement against a power company.

        She's smart. And tenacious. She has the nerve of a burglar. She made her employer rich. She did it in short skirts and a Wonderbra. Big deal.

        I am guessing that if the Reds still had a rule about facial hair, they would bend it for Ken Griffey Jr. I don't think Mark Twain's editor whispered in his ear that he shouldn't wear white after Labor Day.

        “The most impressive thing about Erin is her brain,” says Ed Masry, the Albert Finney character who hired Erin and paid her $2 million for her work on the suit against Pacific Gas & Electric.

        She did things the hard way. Lesser job applicants will have to cover the tattoos and lose the body piercing until they have a chance to prove how smart they are. Then, of course, they can show up in capri pants and roller skates and nobody will care.

        “She put her heart and soul into that case,” Mr. Masry told People magazine. And may have lost some of both along the way. Erin's biker boyfriend baby-sat for her three kids while she worked the case. She hasn't seen him for two years; and last year, she says, she made the “gut wrenching” decision to send her two oldest children to a boarding school when they started using drugs and became chronic truants.

Show us the money
        More time has been spent simpering about Julia/Erin's on-screen decolletage than wondering whether this might be a case for company-sponsored day care or an argument for changing the way secretaries who do all the work on lucrative projects are compensated.

        And, in the matter of compensation, it is worth noting that Julia Roberts entered a very exclusive men's club with this film, being paid $20 million for her work. The studio got its $20 million back and $8 million more the first weekend the movie was in theaters.

        CBS critic John Leonard reminds viewers of Julia Roberts' roles as a law studentwho exposes a Supreme Court assassination plot in Pelican Brief and as a Justice Department attorney who exposes a renegade government agency in Conspiracy Theory.

        “Julia, while we were watching her do other things, has turned into Upton Sinclair, Sam Spade, Lincoln Steffens, Philip Marlow, John Reed, maybe Woodward and probably Bernstein. Tinker Bell is Joan of Arc.”

        Grit and brains and hard work brought success to Erin Brockovich — and to Julia Roberts. And there's a word for people who believe these women succeeded just because they flashed a little skin.

        They're called boobs, Ed.


        E-mail Laura Pulfer at or call 768-8393.