A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Erin Brockovich is a 2000 movie based on a true story in which Julia Roberts plays a woman who finds her calling after working for a law firm and investigating how a small California town is being poisoned by a large utilities company. In moments of conflict and argument, Brockovich's go-to word is "f--k"; other curse words are used as well. Implied sex between lead character and eventual boyfriend, shown before and then after in bed, no nudity. She makes a joke about performing oral sex on the hundreds of plaintiffs in a case in order to get them to sign some necessary documents and shows lots of cleavage. Some smoking and drinking. Brockovich should be seen as a hero worthy of having a movie made about her, but she isn't "heroic" in the classical sense and is rough around the edges.
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What's the story?
When she loses her lawsuit after a car accident, ERIN BROCKOVICH (Julia Roberts) forces the lawyer who represented her (Albert Finney as Ed Masry) to give her a job. No one wants her there, and no one likes her because she has a big mouth and wears trashy clothes. But she is curious and tenacious. She gets interested in a real estate file that includes medical records, and goes off to investigate. It turns out that the community of Hinkley has been poisoned by hexavalent chromium, leaching into the drinking water from a PG&E plant. Erin gains the trust of the community and helps Ed put together a case that would win the largest direct claim settlement in American history.
Is it any good?
This movie is truly an enjoyable ride. The movie poster for it says, "She brought a small town to its feet and a huge company to its knees." So viewers know where it's all going, and just settle back and have fun. Julia Roberts keeps getting better and better, more luminous, and at the same time more vulnerable and more in control. She plays Erin as a woman who never stopped believing in herself and yet is deeply touched when others believe in her, too. She understands the way the people in Hinkley feel, mistrustful of lawyers and overwhelmed by the odds. She understands that "people want to tell their stories." And she has enough confidence in herself to know that, while she might not have been able to keep her beauty queen promise of ending world hunger, this is a promise she can keep.
She understands, too, that there will be costs. A romance with a loving biker/nanny (George, played by Aaron Eckhart, who makes that combination endearingly believable) and her relationships with her children are threatened by her devotion to the case. In a heartbreaking scene, she is driving back home after a hard day and George tells her that her baby spoke her first word. Erin is overjoyed at the news and devastated to have missed it. The look in her eyes as George tells her all about it is complex, rich, perfect. And there are many Rocky/Norma Rae-style feel-good moments, like when PG&E's first lawyer, looking like a high school debate club president, tries to bully Erin and Ed, and when Erin uses everything from her cleavage to her baby to get access to the records she needs.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why it is that Erin is able to connect with the residents of Hinkley, why she is reluctant to accept help from anyone, and the importance of not judging people based on their appearance. They may also want to talk about the issue of corporate responsibility. No one at PG&E wanted anyone to get hurt. How do problems like lack of accountability arise?
How is Erin Brockovich shown to be heroic while also a flawed character? How does she compare to protagonists in other movies?
What would be the challenges in adapting a true story such as this one, with all its legal complications and twists, into an engaging movie?
- In theaters: March 17, 2000
- On DVD or streaming: August 15, 2000
- Cast: Albert Finney, David Brisbin, Julia Roberts
- Director: Steven Soderbergh
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Character Strengths: Courage, Empathy, Perseverance
- Run time: 132 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language and sexual references and situation
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