Great Character: Erin Brockovich (“Erin Brockovich”)

July 5th, 2013 by

This month’s theme: Heroines. Today’s guest post by Jason Cuthbert features Erin Brockovich from the 2000 movie Erin Brockovich, written by Susannah Grant.

After Julia Roberts, that gorgeous actress with Southern charm, earned back-to-back Academy Award nominations for “Steel Magnolias” (1989) and “Pretty Woman” (1990), she finally brought home the gold for her title role in the $256,271,286 grossing hit from 2000 – “Erin Brockovich.” This is a heroine who is also the “damsel in distress” that she is determined to rescue. But the wonderfully complex character of Brockovich is no fictional female do-gooder. In real life, Erin Brockovich is an ex-beauty queen who survived a severe car accident, two divorces, three kids as a single mom and without a law degree, was the instrumental force behind the biggest direct-action lawsuit in United States history. This case enabled the real Erin Brockovich to help 634 Hinkley California residents to earn their share of $333 million due to water contamination. This hard-fought victory also lead to a $2.5 million bonus for Brockovich from her employer, the law firm of Masry & Vititoe. These sad stories were now able to receive a much happier ending.

But Erin Brockovich’s personal happy ending ended up even giddier. Her pain-inflicting car accident from years earlier would prove to have a divine rainbow waiting at the end of it. Brockovich’s therapeutic chiropractor had another client by the name of Carla Santos-Shamberg who just so happened to be an executive at Danny DeVito’s production company Jersey Films. Shamberg not only was excited about wanting to see Brockovich’s story fill silver screens, but she became the link to Brockovich getting paid reportedly $30,000 for her life rights. Along with Julia Roberts, director Steven Soderbergh came onboard to helm “Erin Brockovich,” leading him towards one of two Best Director Oscar nominations for the same year, the other being Michael Douglass’s drug trade drama “Traffic.”

Erin Brockovich plot summary from IMDB:

An unemployed single mother becomes a legal assistant and almost single-handedly brings down a California power company accused of polluting a city’s water supply.

Erin Brockovich is a heroine without comic book super powers, secret martial arts training or an extensive gun arsenal – just fearless determination and unwavering compassion. When the word “no” enters Erin’s ears, it exits as a foreign language she has no intention of learning.

ERIN BROCKOVICH: I don’t need pity, I need a paycheck. And I’ve looked. But when you’ve spent the past six years raising babies its real hard to find somebody who pays worth a damn, are ya getting every word of this down honey or am I talking too fast?

Don’t become Erin’s obstacle. She has mouths to feed, including her own mouth, which is loaded with enough explicit content to force a grown man to seek parental advisory before hearing her wrath.

ERIN BROCKOVICH: Hey Scott, Tell me something. Does PG&E pay you to cover their ass, or do you just do it out of the kindness of your heart?
SCOTT: I don’t know what you’re talking about…
ERIN BROCKOVICH: The fuck you don’t! Nobody calls me Pat-te, That heavy-breathing sicko that called the other night, Could have only found out about me from you… People are dying, Scott, you’ve got document after document here telling you why, and you haven’t said one word. I wanna know… How the hell you sleep at night!

Even Erin’s boss Ed Masry, a man whose name is on her paycheck, is still not Goliath enough to make Erin feel smaller than David. Her instinctive defensive shield reveals a hidden level of inner pain that makes even Masry’s constructive criticism get mistaken for degrading observations. We respect Erin’s strength and feminist resolve. But we fear that all of her pushing will eventually create nothing but friction – and unemployment.

ED MASRY: In a law firm you may want to re-think your wardrobe a little.
ERIN BROCKOVICH: Well as long as I have one ass instead of two I’ll wear what I like if that’s all right with you. You might want to re-think those ties.

The chip on Erin Brockovich’s shoulder may be from bearing the burden of being two parents in one body and being the least educated person at her place of employment. But a vital part of Brockovich’s journey is learning how to make that massive chip less of an anti-social liability and more of a motivational source of fuel. Her uncompromising ability to speak from the heart is noble, but dangerous when that heart has been ripped out and broken. There are many moments when we are afraid she may have cursed out the wrong person in the room.

Her volatile blend of pride and passion can go in any direction that she aims at.
But there are also those rewarding moments when Erin Brockovich’s iron lungs kick verbal kung fu at the individuals who may have had it coming all along.

For her dignified lack of self-pity when it would have been totally warranted, her conversion of pain into power and her uncanny commitment to the greater good – ERIN BROCKOVICH is one unstoppably GREAT CHARACTER.

Sometimes a real life person comes along who is the epitome of a Protagonist in a movie. Erin Brockovich is one of those people, a heroine in the truest sense of the word.

Thanks to Jason for yet another Great Character post. Join us in comments for a discussion of Erin Brockovich.

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