“Basically, it all comes down to what this one judge decides?”
Just saw Erin Brokovich for the first time! This movie made a lot of headlines when it debuted in 2000 but I avoided seeing it until tonight because Julia Roberts has too many teeth. I’m deathly afraid she might just jump out of the screen and bite me. Still, you can’t run forever and that was certainly the case during halftime of tonight’s Bulls victory over the Heat. Like most self-respecting men, I flipped from Rich King to Lifetime and there she was—Erin Brokovich, telling off the guy from Thank You for Smoking.
I bonded with Erin pretty quickly and not just because I’ve always wanted a perm. No, it was the job search. What’s that phrase—misery loves unemployed people? After Erin’s bumbling job interview in the opening scene one thing was clear: “Erin Brockovich needs a job. David Freedman needs a job. Erin, meet David! We’re gonna be best friends!” Fifteen minutes later she lands a job in a law firm working as a paralegal and I’m left feeling totally betrayed, but hey, that’s a sign of economic recovery right? Wait, when does this movie take place?
I love how Erin lands the job by just marching into the office and demanding the lawyer hire her because dammit, she needs a job. Now I finally understand what my grandmother was trying to say while I drove her to Target (she got a coupon for free eggs!):
Dah-vid, I always imagined you’d work for the baseball players and movie stars [because I’m her grandson], but if you want to work for one of those big firms like Mayer Ellis, you just go to their office, give them your resume and say “I WANT A JOB.”
If only they didn’t call security.
Erin dresses differently from the paralegals in the office, ditching sweaters and long skirts for a wardrobe slightly more Jersey Shore. And although even I save my tube tops for firm picnics, one scene in the film where her new boss confronts her about the dress code truly resonated with me. I’m Jewish, so I’ve always worn a yarmulke to work. No one’s ever said anything to me about it — no, that would be quite awkward and knowing me, I’d probably find a way to make it even more awkward.
I realize, though, that there was a time not so long ago that people a lot smarter and braver than me had to take off their yarmulkes or even change their last names to get a job. Erin wins this battle, but her fashion sense noticeably changes over the course of the movie so it’s unclear who wins the war. (Preachy. I’m aware.)
My favorite character in this movie is, of course, the actual lawyer, Ed Masry (played hilariously by Albert Finney.) Ed’s a general practitioner, who together with his team of 400 paralegals conquers everything from auto accidents to real estate closings. He’s run this firm for a long time and seems very busy (although only moderately successful.) His dream is my dream—to retire—except he’s a bit further along than me. The firm is so high volume that Ed totally overlooks the potential goldmine of a lawsuit in a pro bono case he took on. Take your own lesson from that.
Once on board, Ed becomes the voice of reason throughout the lawsuit, which isn’t easy given that Erin is a handful and the facts are heavily sympathetic towards the plaintiffs. Ed succeeds because he’s been around and knows his limitations. I’m shocked that he continuously gives Erin so much responsibility and eventually concludes that he can’t take it alone. That’s a humbling realization for someone who has worked for so long and so hard. His demeanor towards a continuously growing and uninformed group of plaintiffs is even more impressive; in a town hall meeting he saves the case by reminding them why he’s the lawyer in the room and not bending to the moment.
As I watched this movie, I found myself falling into the “Erin Brockovich trap” more than once. Erin’s not a lawyer. She sees the victims of a malicious corporate cover-up and she’s psyched to go to trial and raise hell.
Ed reminds her that even when there aren’t two sides of a story, there are still two parties in a case. It only seems like a slam dunk because she’s invested a year of her life, met all of the plaintiffs, and memorized their stories, phone numbers, etc. A trial judge, though, won’t be nearly as invested.
Summary Judgment: Erin Brockovich is funny, poignant, never over the top, and difficult to spell. Julia Roberts still has a lot of teeth, and I’m not sure we can ever forgive her for Notting Hill, but this was certainly a step in the right direction. On a sort of embarrassing/depressing note, before I saw this movie I thought Erin Brockovich was a lawyer. (wait, she’s not?) The movie portrays her as a poorly trained law clerk. So does this mean you don’t have to go to law school and pass the bar to practice law? You think about that while I catch up on Drop Dead Diva.