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Can Julia Roberts come back on her own terms?

January 12, 2010 |  1:32 pm


The feeling around Hollywood lately is that Sandra Bullock has in some ways walked off with Julia Roberts’ career. The actress opted for “The Proposal” after Roberts passed and starred in “The Blind Side,” which had been first offered to Roberts back when the film was at Fox.

Roberts has instead decided to focus on her family, stepping back in to the limelight mainly to play supporting parts in movies like “Charlie Wilson’s War” and ensemble roles like the one she has in the upcoming Garry Marshall flick “Valentine’s Day”  (which, as those ubiquitous TV ads have shown, has Roberts playing a soldier who flirts outrageously with Bradley Cooper).

"Duplicity” last year marked a comeback of sorts, but while the complex thriller impressed the critics, regular Joes appear to have found the tale of two corporate spies a little remote.

Now comes word that Roberts is taking on another lead role, with “Charlie Wilson’s War” buddy Tom Hanks writing and directing a movie for the two of them about a man re-inventing his life at middle age. The man endures a midlife crisis and joins a kids' Vespa gang; Roberts plays an instructor at a school that Hanks' character enrolls in. (Clearly the midlife-crisis theme is resonant for Hanks – he also owns the rights to the book “How Starbucks Changed My Life,” a memoir about a man who goes to work at Starbucks at age 63 after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.)

Fans (this writer included) tend to feel like it’s been a long time since they've gotten their fix of the big wide smile and the whole smiling-through-tears moment that seems to come in every commercial movie she does, from “Pretty Woman” to “Notting Hill.”

Of course, the more limited work schedule is not just a family thing for Roberts. She’s now choosing her films on a lot more than their commercial appeal, taking on ambitious projects that offer her the chance to play meatier roles.

In August, she’ll be seen doing just that when “Eat, Pray, Love,” the adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir about a woman who travels the globe after her divorce, hits the screen. That movie has general appeal and should stoke fan interest (especially the pairing of Roberts and Javier Bardem). But directed by “Nip/Tuck” creator Ryan Murphy, it also appears to be the kind of film that works in Roberts' interest in more prestige fare.

Last spring, Roberts told this paper that she can’t imagine herself recycling the romantic rescue tropes that endeared her to audiences in the '90s. “I can’t play those parts anymore,” she said. “It just doesn’t work for me at 41, with three kids and happily married.”

But as the skyrocketing careers of Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep have demonstrated recently, in contemporary you can also tell real stories about women over 40 that have genuine broad appeal. You can be, in other words, the new Julia Roberts.

-- Rachel Abramowitz

Photo: Julia Roberts. Credit: Evan Agostini/AP

Comments () | Archives (28)

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Can't wait to see her back on the silver screen this year. She still occupies the golden pedestal of being a true movie star. I find it hard to even think of who else occupies this space. I think the economic climate had more to do with Duplicity's soft B.O. numbers than Mrs. Roberts foray out of the romantic comedy genre.

The truth is, she's not a very good actress and there are plenty of fair actresses out there to fill the void that she has left. She's no Meryl Streep, that's for sure and it's time for Hollywood to stop recycling the average and start discovering and developing the same sort of talent that Europe has been nurturing for years. Films are global and there is a plethora of fresh talent out there. Roberts should stick to her kids and her husband. Her smile is not really too missed, I hate to say.

Eat, Pray, Love may have sold millions of copies to frustrated upper middle class white women, but at its core it's basically fluff. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I don't see the resulting movie ending up in the "prestige" category. If she really wants to break out of the romantic heroine mold, this is the wrong picture with which to do it. There have got to be more interesting, truly prestigious, independent movies out there that she could sink her teeth into...no pun intended.

Thank God she hasn't been around! Kenneth Garcia calls her a "true movie star"?? Puh-leeze!! She has got to be the most overrated actress in Hollywood! Her first "hit", Pretty Woman, was probably the most INaccurate portrayal of a prostitute in the history of cinema. Richard Gere carried her in that movie. Her next film, Sleeping With the Enemy was a box office dud, as are the VAST majority of her starring films, if you follow her career arc. Her brother Eric has more acting talent in his little finger than she has in her whole body. Amazing that some people still pine for this has-been. And those teeth! Hideous.

i think there's always a place for a julia roberts in hollywood. yes, it's given that she has reached the peak of her career in 2000 but that's fine, everyone has that one year that they have it all. but i think she has proven in the 20 years that she was on top of the list that she's a capable actress alongside being beloved to audiences. she just needs the right project again. and truth is, this isn't the first time it happened to her career. in the mid nineties, there was a lull between dying young and my best friend's wedding. in that lull, there entered... sandra bullock to temporarily stake her claim to the spot. heh.

As she always makes sure to point out, she's happily married now, and aging out of those big hair/big teeth romantic lead roles. Won't miss her for one second.

Julia Roberts wasn't cast in The Proposal and other films cause she asked for too much money. Real actresses want to work no matter what and do not have to do a film and act like that year it's the Second Coming. Sandra Bullock wants to produce and act in films. Ms. Bullock wants to act and wants to do films. Julia Roberts blew her career a long time ago when she suffered some stressed out meltdown. Much much younger actresses today like Scarlet Johannssen, Keira Knightly and Ann Hathaway can be stunning actresses and stars and do films at the age of 18 through their late teens and early twenties and not have "problems" the suddenly have them stressed out that they leave films before they start. Ms. Roberts is now 41 and it's slim pickens for her. So now she can use another convenient excuse that she is a mother of three and a wife and "happily" married. LA's a small town and I've had to hear back from people on film sets that her husband Danny and her live separate lives and he's basically afraid to be himself around her. Hollywood moves very fast and Ms. Roberts career now comes up a day late and a dollar short.

Julia Roberts has earned the right to do whatever she wants. She is not hard up for parts. Remember they were offered to her first. She passed on them. They are good roles for Sandra but we have already seen Julia do both those types of movies. She would have gotten so much flak if she took them. As for her asking price she is worth every penny. Watch how Sandras price goes up (if it hasn't already)now that she has two hits under her belt. She has given us over twenty years of enjoyable roles.

Roberts is a one-note Nancy who has never shown she can act her way out of a paper bag. It is practically sacrilegious to mention her in the same breath with Meryl Streep, who is one of the finest actors of ours or any other time. I have never seen Roberts in any role that ANY other actress couldn't have performed just as serviceably. Go ahead, Hollywood, cast her and I'll save the $10 to spend on my Netflix subscription.

Love Julia Roberts! I love Sandra Bullock also but she has a long way to go and about ten more hits to rack up before she has a Julia Roberts type career. The fact that she is taking roles that Julia passed on says a lot in itself. I realize Sandra has been around longer but these Julia Roberts comparisons are what sank her career ship early on. I am sure she is not appreciating the rehash. How long has Hollywood been trying to find the next Julia Roberts? Say what you want. Love her or hate her but Julia is something special and Hollywood and most of the world knows it.

I love Julia Roberts, so pretty woman.

She is smart to put her family first. She waited a long time to have children and they are only young once. By the time they are in school she will be ready for a full time career again. It is Sandra's time to shine and I am sure Julia does not mind.

Whatever is in the Roberts' acting portfolio, the lady is just charismatic. This is from a British lady who finds hollywood inspiring and would like to see them film more complex, down to earth stories.

I love both Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock. But, I think Sandra has that universal appeal. I can relate to her no matter what role she tackles. Julia always feels like a female Jack Nicholson. Meaning she is acting to draw all eyes on her and not for the craft itself.

Meryl Streep is a Hollywood goddess and I think both Sandra and Julia would agree that they are not even in the same category.

Its very difficult to make a comeback "on your own terms" anywhere, let alone in Hollywood.

Ask Debra Winger. If you can remember Debra Winger.

Meryl Streep is beyond reproach, no doubt, but she's also about to reach saturation point and it's about time for a backlash. As much as I like Streep, I'm getting sick of her - I've been sick of her. I'm sick of her name being a knee jerk part of the academy awards and I'm tired of her feigned humility and regular joe act. I've seen her on Leno and find her to be very silly for a woman her age.

But having said that, it's nice to see someone up there that looks like you (in the not 21 sense). I'm glad to see women like Streep and Bullock making box office. Women over 40 are generally irrelevant in the world, sad to say and it's nice to see us represented in such a good light. Where's Catherine Zeta Jones by the way? Even at her alleged age she's over 40 isn't she?

The mistake most over 40 actresses make is expecting to play 25. Bullock and Streep have shown there is plenty of work for women who are willing to act.

Sandra Bullock is the most underrated actress in Hollywood. She was hilarious in The Proposal and fabulous in The Blind Side. I hope she wins the Oscar. Let's not forget that since Speed, Ms. Bullock has rocked. I love Ms. Roberts, but give Sandra her due; it's time for her to reap a wheelbarrow of acting awards.

Julia Roberts is a very beautiful and talented actress.

Julia Roberts is the best actress ever!

Since the 1990s, going all the way back to Demolition Man, Sandra Bullock has only had a career once Julia turns down something. That's not a slam against either actress, it's just a fact. Can't interest Julia? Try Sandra.

If people are finally starting to notice Sandra on her own accord, that's great. She brings a completely different quality to the screen than Julia, anyway, and I can't understand how a role can even be considered suitable for *both* of them.

But to suggest that Julia has lost her career to Sandra--? Yeah, I remember that sentiment back in the 1990s, too, after Demolition Man and While You Were Sleeping were big hits. And then My Best Friend's Wedding came out...

Julia Roberts has no class at tonights award ceremony. I think she is so full of herself. How dare she take the spotlight away from Sandra Bulluck. Just because she passed on a movie doesn't mean she would have played the part any better.
Please if you really want to remember Julia she was known for her nonstop love interludes with various men in hollywood. I am just blown away at how certain people can brake up marriages,destroy lifes and friends but come out smelling like Betty Crocker.She is full OF IT

Bullock Rocks!!! Sincerest, Congratulations, Sandra!!!
Loved Sandra in Blind Side, The Net, While You Were Sleeping and Miss Congeniality and several others. She is deservidly well respected in Hollywood. Don't know her personally, but she sure seems like a real, down to earth sweetie.I liked a couple of Roberts' flicks but I loved all of Bullock's. I've paid to see Bullock's but never paid for any of Robert's.'NUF SAID!

OMG! Did Julia Roberts attend a wake before the Golden Globes? My grandma has a dress exactly like hers. What a lot of nerve to attend a formal affair like that wearing an office dress. Totally Frumpy!

Julia Roberts laugh and smile completely light up a room. I love it. You hear it and you feel 18 again. But other than Brocovich, she hasn't been successful in the meatier roles. Remember that Jekyl and Hyde fiasco? I felt so sorry for John Malcovich. And lastly - this has always bugged me...she can't walk in heels. AT ALL.\

That being said, I applaud any woman that keeps her family a priority. Being a working mother is not easy. In fact, it is the hardest thing I've ever done. You constantly feel like some part of your life is getting cheated of your attention. Whether she has a perfect marriage (WHAT IS THAT by the way?) or not, the fact is - her kids have been able to be the center of her life and that is wonderful.

Can she come back? Sure. You bet. But I don't think it needs to be at the cost of Sandra Bullock.

If Julia Roberts want wants to have a substantive career, she needs to make some real hard changes: l. Challenge herself by playing more meaninful roles. 2. Stop playing herself. 3. Do some drama and stop playing silly roles in comedy. 4. Get a good hair cut and comb her hair, she looked ghastly at the Golden Globes, except for the necklace.

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