Film: Erin Brockovich

Erin Brockovich is a 2000 film directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Julia Roberts in the title role.

Erin Brockovich is a single mother without a job and with thousands of dollars in hospital bills from a car accident she was in (and unsuccessfully sued the other driver to pay). Desperate, she persuades her lawyer to take her on as a legal assistant. While everyone else is very professional, Brockovich dresses trashily and is rather crude. Then one day, she begins to investigate the Pacific Gas & Electric Company and discovers they're dumping toxic waste into the water supply of Hinkley, California. By using her...considerable assets...she begins a legal battle that would end up the largest class action lawsuit in American history. Yes, this is Based on a True Story, and Erin Brockovich is a real woman. She gets a cameo as a waitress in a Greasy Spoon restaurant (and, in a cute little bit of irony, her name tag reads "Julia").

The film was nominated for five Oscars, but won only one: Julia Roberts' only Oscar win for Best Actress. AFI lauded Erin as one of its "Heroes" (#31), and the film as one its most inspirational (#73).

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor IS The Title Character
  • Amoral Attorney: Pretty much the entire PG&E legal team.
    • As well as the guy representing the doctor who hit Erin's car and injured her, trying to make her look like a promiscuous money-grubbing liar.
  • Beauty Is Bad: The other secretaries take an instant dislike to Erin. Her often abrasive personality probably doesn't help, but their attitudes seem to be based solely on how she looks and dresses.
  • Because I Said So: Played for a surprising amount of drama when Erin explains the water contamination to one of the residents of Hinkley. The mother looks outside in horror at her kids in a swimming pool and rushes to get them out. When the kids ask why they had to get out, she yells, "Because I said so!"
  • Based on a True Story
  • Covers Always Lie: The shot of Erin on the DVD cover never appears in the movie, save for a deleted scene.
  • Dirty Old Man: Erin thinks an old guy who keeps lurking around is one of these. Although he does express some interest in her, it turns out he was just working up the nerve to tell her some sensitive information.
  • Disappeared Dad: Erin's two ex's. Given the implication that she's receiving no financial help from either of them, they're deadbeats as well.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Brockovich pulled one in real life.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Albert Finney's practice is portrayed as a small-time study in diminished expectations.
  • Happily Married: A few throwaway lines of dialogue and some deleted scenes establish Ed and his never-seen wife as this.
  • Hairtrigger Temper: Erin tends to flip out and fly off the handle at anything she perceives as an insult. And God help if you if it was meant as an insult. Sometimes it comes in handy, such as when tells off the lawyer offering a paltry settlement, but it's usually a problem, as evidenced by the fact that Ed has to all but beg her to keep her mouth shut at an important meeting. It finally bites her in the ass at the end when she flies into a rage at Ed, only to learn it was completely unwarranted.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Or rather, Hello Legal Assistant, in Erin's case.
  • Henpecked Husband: Or boyfriend, rather. Not until the end of the movie does George get an ounce of gratitude from Erin for taking care of her kids while she's at work.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Brockovich. The movie portrays her as a tireless activist purely because it's The Right Thing To Do. It leaves out the fact that she was after a very sizable cut of the settlement as well and made millions of dollars that way... or at the least, portrays it as a "happy side effect".
    • Her boyfriend George also. In the movie, he's just an all-around Nice Guy. In Real Life, shortly after the movie was released, he tried to blackmail her by threatening to tell the media that she was an unfit mother and that she and Ed had had an affair
  • I Broke a Nail: Erin, right before her car gets T-boned at the start of the film.
  • I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!: "They're called boobs, Ed."
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Averted. Over the course of her investigations Erin comes to know every single one of the 600 or so residents of Hinckley, to the surprise to a couple of less-attached lawyers.
  • Oscar Bait
  • Not in My Backyard!: One of the main reasons people find the story compelling.
  • Rags to Riches: Erin goes from having $16 dollars in her bank account to landing a steady job, getting raise after raise, a $5000 bonus plus a new car, and finally, a $2 million check. The citizens of Hinkley count too. Although the way the money was distributed is not known, it's likely that they're all better off financially then they were before.
    • Of course, if it was distributed like it was in real life, it's actually a Downer Ending since Brockovich and her firm stole pretty much all of the money.
  • Real Person Cameo: The real Erin Brockovich plays a waitress (lampshaded, as the waitress' name is Julia R.)
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: There's an interesting, but very different, story about underhanded industry lawyers hiring gumshoes to illegally invade the privacy of common citizens versus a pair of lawyers with an uncomfortably close relationship to the arbitration judge.
    • The real Brockovich and her team of lawyers was also less than above-board in how they distributed funds to the Hinkley residents (see here).
  • Water Source Tampering: PG&E tries to cover up the fact that they were poisoning the groundwater of the town Hinkley, California with Hexavalent Chromium, which resulted in most of the town suffering from illness and cancer.
  • Wham Line: "Would it be important if, when I worked at the plant, I destroyed documents?"