The world reserves polarized views about Julia Roberts even today. She has walked a long way from dreaming in Smyrna, Georgia about becoming the most popular actor in Hollywood to actually becoming one. On one hand, her legions of fans, both in a Hollywood dominated USA as in the rest of the world bow down to her brilliant talent, but on the other hand, for some reason there is always a growing stack of those who haven’t warm up to her.
In an age where beauty continues to be shape-shifted by new definitions, the world continuing to lend new politically correct statements to a subject truly subjective for it being as sensitive as it is poignant, Julia Roberts is still relevant. And she is still strong, as powerhouse a performer now as she was back in the Pretty Woman days. She’s still managed to keep her private life away from probing and hounding controversial limelight of Hollywood. She isn’t known to party in strip bars or burn millions in Vegas, in an age where these aspects aren’t even held spectacular anymore but considered a part of normality for the rich and elite with money.
She has been hounded for her ‘weird’ marriage choices. At times she’s even been subjected to ridiculous and unbecoming stakes put to her personality, some loathing her for having ‘too broad a smile’. One wonders then weren’t little kids always told about never giving up on their smiles for it brightened the world? Anyhow!
She’s gladly stuck with concrete, believable stories that draw inspiration from varied specters of life- from protraying the everyday working class women’s problems to the matters of complicated love in elitist circles and even emabrked upon sugary lovey trips like ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’- appearing bold and somewhat vulnerable but passionately romantic. And it all seems to be coming from Roberts’ exceptional observational skills, her insanely talented ability to become the story instead of weaving one around her starry aura.
But Julia Roberts is a person made of different DNA; a person who seems to be practicing a sagely abstinence from indulging in shenanigans, seemingly unprepared to give it back to her haters. None know if she’s ever gone under the knife or not and that’s not important but in an age where people are ‘making love to money’ and out-rightly for ‘cheap publicity’, changing appearances with the coming and going of every season, we saw a different Julia Roberts. The same Julia Roberts, who starred as a ‘hooker’ albeit a supremely confident one in Pretty Woman was doing Yoga and practicing meditation in Eat Pray and Love. The journey from the starry heights of Pretty Woman where she wanted to be loved and belonged found profound reason, new hope albeit through a bit of soul searching in Eat Pray Love. The 2010 Elizabeth Gilbert adaptation showed a sparkling new Julia; one afraid to push herself in matters of heart, one determined to conquer inner demons and one who traveled the world to find herself.
In the middle we saw Roberts doing a bit of everything- inspiring an elite art school’s all girl gang to take up Art seriously and question existing faiths and beliefs as the incredible Katherine Watson (Mona Lisa Smile). We saw Julia Roberts romance Tom Hanks, perhaps the ideal better half in the self-styled Hollywood credential of ‘America’s Sweethearts’ in Larry Crowne where she was once again the teacher but one with an endearing student in Hanks’ Crowne.
And before vanishing from 2010 to 2016, she had already shown her massive magnitude of talent and versatility in Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, The Mexican, Erin Brokovich and Valentine’s Day- indicating she could hold on to feminist subject driven narratives as brilliantly as she could flirt with Bradley Cooper in a romance saga that had several other A list stars of credibility, all the while denying the unfounded notion that ‘she prefers to star in big budget roles where she’s the hero’.
She’s turned 49, as of October 29, one shy of the glorious 50 but ever so silently minus any contemporary feeders on social media that often have a feel good factor about ‘preaching’. She doesn’t need that. Julia Roberts isn’t exactly competing to be a back-to-back Academy Award Winner. That she’s already won an Oscar doesn’t seem telling on her CV or persona, which is attuned to exacting more from her talents. Nor is she changing her approach in a gimmicky showbiz world to cater to a fan-base that’s moved to sensationalism as opposed to drawing on inspiration from meaningful storylines.
From earning $50,000 in her first outing in Mystic Pizza to reaffirming the common man’s faith in big Hollywood celebrity by virtue of asking friends, fans and admirers to donate $49 toward a not-for-profit organization that works toward Education and especially that of LGBT youth- this is Julia Roberts. She’s served ice creams at one point of time at Baskin Robbins to creaming fearlessly independent and meaningful roles in Erin Brokovich, delved in matters of emotional turmoils such as Closer, never shied away from wounding flawed societal perceptions through ventures like Stepmom and by dabbling in stories that seem as fairy tale romantic and believably sane albeit in today’s world through Notting Hill, given us a lot to think about.
And in doing so, thankfully, she hasn’t parted with that evergreen smile, something that electrifies her presence on the stage, making it so worthwhile as it comes to be lauded as ‘big screen’. Thank You Julia. We are sure there are more surprises to come!