Before sitting down to watch Erin Brockovich for the first time (18 years after it’s release) I asked my wife if it was going to be a “difficult watch”. She knows exactly what I meant by this and most of the time it’s simply “will it make me cry?”. I knew the subject matter and anticipated some sad stories in relation to the court case for the contaminated water in a small American town.
The answer was “no, it’s good” and she was right; she knows me well. Now, the film does make time to tell the stories of the people who suffered cancer illnesses and miscarriages, at one point we even meet a poorly child midway through chemotherapy treatment and it won’t surprise you to hear that this is a sad sight to see. But our lead character doesn’t particularly make time to connect with this child, nor any other of the residents suffering at the hands of a multi-million dollar corporation with no morals.
As the story wraps up any loose ends towards the final third of the film I began questioning why this was the case. I didn’t choke when Erin Brockovich, portrayed brilliantly by Julia Roberts, delivered the good news face to face to the sick lady that her family would be recieiving $50million dollars. I nearly did, but I didn’t and I immediately began to think they’d missed a trick. The movie had delivered in terms of giving us a fully deserving Oscar winning performance by an Actress in a Lead Role. The material was all there, her interactions with the wonderful #SonofSalford Albert Finney saw him rightly Oscar-nominated too and some of her back chat is very quotable:
Two wrong feet in fucking ugly shoes
They’d carried us (the audience) all the way to the brink of tears, telling us these horrific, very real stories of tragedy with a satisfying outcome of revenge, hitting the bastards where it hurt them most (their pockets) and yet no tears dropped because I didn’t really feel I knew them. And because I was acutely aware that this was based on a true story it stayed at the forefront of my mind that the people on film were just actors. It happens sometimes.
And yet – just moments later, I choked and my eyes filled up. It was the news that Erin Brockovich had received a healthy bonus as a result of the successful court case. It was her story that had been chosen to be told. We knew more about her strife and all along the way of hearing about these very sick people we were associating it with how it affected Erin, building up our emotional investment in her so that bam! When the good news finally came, it all paid off. All the overtime not being with her kids, all the relationships she had failed with as a result of not having the time or money to invest and ultimately she was representing the people of that town and she had done it all for their benefit, for justice. She had sacrificed her life for this moment, and maybe director Steven Soderbergh had sacrificed a part of the film in order to make sure we were there for Erin? I for one did, and I think it paid off.
Man, I love a good film and I’m in awe of anyone who gets it right like that. Mr. Soderbergh – I salute you. And maybe my wife doesn’t know me well at all…
Erin Brockovich was playing at Home Cinema, Manchester as part of the #SonofSalford season celebrating legend of the screen Albert Finney. Get yourself down there now!