Hollywood film star Julia Roberts turns 50 on October 28. To celebrate her birthday, we're highlighting some of her work, both past and upcoming.
Julia Roberts became a star at 23 with her romantic comedy Pretty Woman, about Vivian Ward, a beautiful prostitute who finds happily ever after with a wealthy businessman played by 1980s Casanova Richard Gere. Although it's been criticized for romanticizing prostitution, the story is in effect a fairy tale, with the gorgeous yet down-to-earth Vivian swept off her feet into a world of wealth and culture.
At 32, Roberts played an American movie star who meets and enchants unsuccessful bookstore owner Hugh Grant in Notting Hill, an adorable neighborhood in London. If you love romantic comedies set in England with dry British humor and a zany group of side characters (think Bridget Jones's Diary), you'll devour Notting Hill.
The next year found Roberts playing a real-life heroine in a more serious story, Erin Brockovich, about the crusading single mother who discovered that contamination of the drinking water by a public utility had caused severe community health problems in Hinkley, Calif. The dedication and hard work of the fiery Brockovich on behalf of the victims resulted in the largest settlement ever paid in a U.S. class-action lawsuit.
As an art librarian, my favorite Roberts film is Mona Lisa Smile, which she starred in at 36, playing art history professor Katherine Ann Watson, who gets a job teaching at Wellesley, a conservative women's college in Massachusetts. The story is set in 1953 and the forward-thinking Watson strives to teach the college women that there's more to life than marriage by exposing them to the freedom of modern art. She struggles with conservativism among the students (especially stubborn and outspoken Betty Warren played by Kirsten Dunst) and within the college, which objects to her unorthodox teaching methods. Ultimately her dedication to independence earns her the loyalty of the students, although it compels her to make both professional and personal sacrifices.
Eat Pray Love is the 2010 film adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir. Then 43, Roberts plays Gilbert, who after a divorce sets off on an international quest for meaning. Gilbert discovers culinary pleasure and companionship in Italy, spiritual discipline in an ashram (similar to a monastery) in India, and finally inner peace and new love in Indonesia. Although Roberts as Gilbert comes off as self-absorbed, the splendid filming locations make the movie a visual feast. From New York to Rome and Naples to Delhi and Bali, it's fun to explore these exotic locales on screen.
Roberts' upcoming movie, Wonder, due out November 17, is also based on a book, Wonder. The children's novel by R.J. Palacio features August (Auggie) Pullman, a boy with extreme facial differences who attends school for the first time at 10. Wonder is a lovely novel that I couldn't put down. Told from multiple viewpoints, including those of Auggie and the people around him, the story shows his heart-wrenching challenges navigating a new school and the cruelties of schoolchildren. Ultimately Auggie's bravery, his funny, endearing personality and his strong supportive family help him to find loyal friends and happiness in his new life. Roberts is a great choice to play Auggie's passionate and loving mother.