Art & Culture

Dear Julia Roberts,

When you were 23, you were a Pretty Woman. At 45, you're the Wicked Stepmother. The combination of big brown eyes and an even bigger smile has kept you going for half your life. But for how much longer?

A shelf life of 22 years for an actress at the top of the Hollywood tree is an extraordinary achievement, especially since you have never sold yourself as a sex symbol. Beautiful, yes. Sexy, no. Your success has not been built on your willingness to appear semi-naked, or pose for provocative pictures. The same can be said of Meryl Streep, but the crucial difference is that she is a great actress, while you are – what? A major film star? Yes and no. For the first ten or so years, no question, but since the turn of the millennium, there's very little to talk about.

What is so impressive is that you are still talked about and treated as if you are Numero Uno, and yet you clearly are not. It's almost as if noone has been able to update your status to take reality into account. Which of the following could be classed as a bona fide hit, let alone a really good film. Mona Lisa Smile, Charlie Wilson's War, Duplicity, Larry Crowne, or Closer? Maybe Eat Pray Love in a small scale way, but otherwise it's been a bust. And that especially includes this month's horror horror called Mirror Mirror. If ever a film reeked of desperation, that is it.

For me, the highlights of your career are few and far between, but special mention must be made of Erin Brockovich, which was a perfect fit for you. It stretched you just far enough beyond your comfort zone for you to look like a good actress and win you an Oscar; it made you look sexier than usual (not difficult) by allowing you to legitimately use a push up bra; and the film had a worthy and righteous message that appealed to worthy and righteous people like me. There are those (mainly women) who love Pretty Woman, but I prefer you in Notting Hill, as a film star playing a film star. The speech in which you explain to Hugh Grant and friends what it's like being a movie star seemed to be spoken from the heart. "One day my looks will go, and they'll discover that I can't act…"

And yes it's true, you can't act, but then most film stars can't. That's why they're film stars, because they play the same role over and over. You have been allotted the role of America's Sweetheart (the title of one of your less memorable films), and no one has really ever challenged you with sufficient energy to replace you. Even at the advanced (in Hollywood terms) age of 45, you still look like a really nice and friendly person who anyone would have a good time with. The Girl Next Door. I should say The Woman Next Door, except that you've never really made that transition (you're not alone in that), and it's possible you never will. On the other hand, you probably won't become the sad and lonely old woman that you describe in Notting Hill. I suspect that you will continue to look good, be admired and continue to have unmemorable roles in forgettable films.

By Phil Raby

Front Row Films

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