From the moment Erin Brockovich was released, in March of 2000, everyone knew that Julia Roberts would win an Oscar for it. There was nary a review that did not point out how fantastic she was, how she carried the burdens of a dramatic role so well (after practically creating the entire rom-com movement throughout the 90's) and how big her boobs looked.
But beyond the awards craze, the "she can act" novelty and the miniskirts, the truth is that Julia had created a character all her own. One that might've looked and sounded like Julia Roberts, but was all Erin Brockovich.
This is never as evident as in a small, intimate scene where Erin opens up to a man (her biker neighbor played by Aaron Eckhart) for the first time in years.
Are you gonna be something else that I have to survive?she asks him after a mini breakdown (notice how she subtly implodes, instead of chewing the scenery).
She then goes on telling him about her one year stint as beauty queen.
So I get up on the stage, in the center of the stage and I have a big bouquet of flowers and I have my foot out like this and I say 'I will devote my entire reign as Miss Wichita to bringing an end to world hunger and to the creation of a peaceful Earth for every man, woman and child'.The scene is directed by Steven Soderbergh as if he'd been possessed by Francois Truffaut or a kinder version of Godard, in how he lets the editing create cadences about what Erin isn't saying.
The scene plays out like Erin would remember it, once she was back fighting the evil corporations, being her good, old, potty mouthed self.
Roberts makes Erin laugh at herself and tell this anecdote as something silly to pass the time. But the bittersweet truth is that this might very well be her "I coulda been a contender" speech, something in her eyes is telling us that she wished she could've solved all the world's troubles, or her own for starters.
For the first time in the movie Erin becomes truly aware of her mortality and lost opportunities. And for the first time in her career Julia showed us why she's destined to become immortal.