NPR logo Julia Roberts: Can You Hear Her Ancient Bones Creaking?


Julia Roberts: Can You Hear Her Ancient Bones Creaking?

Julia Roberts is 41 years old, and here's a look at her new movie.

On March 6, Newsweek asked, in anticipation of the opening of Duplicity, "Is Julia Roberts' Box-Office Reign Over?", and declared her "Hollywood ancient."

And so, again, we find ourselves embroiled in a debate about age and women, money and Hollywood, and — oh, yes — jokes about support hose, because really, what's fresher than that?

Of course, Newsweek didn't say they think she's too old; it simply said Hollywood thinks she's too old. It's the "some people say" brand of little dig: "We're not saying anything; we're just saying." Traditionally, of course, there's plenty of truth in the bruising realities faced by actresses over 40. But there are other questions about that piece that need asking.

Being on a first-name basis, the irrelevance of Ashley Judd, and much more, after the jump...

Why is she called "Julia" throughout, as if she is our pet kittycat and not someone who has generated billions of dollars in revenue and — let's not forget — three Oscar nominations, one of which resulted in a win? When was the multiplex not dominated by "dude movies"?

Most of all, how on earth did the massive, female-dominated audiences for Sex And The City and He's Just Not That Into You translate into bad news, based on the positively contortionist logic stating that it has apparently become harder to get men to see "chick flicks" than it was before? Isn't it more logical that the money made by those movies on the strength of female audiences is good news for a sexy verbal rat-a-tat movie starring Julia Roberts and the magically delicious Clive Owen?

In the E! comparisons of Roberts to other actresses, problems abound. The career of Naomi Watts has absolutely nothing to do with Julia Roberts. Halle Berry is certainly not Julia Roberts. Ashley Judd? Ashley Judd isn't even Julia Stiles.

The problem with making predictions about whether Julia Roberts is "too old" is that there is simply nothing to use for guidance. As soon as you read the list of actresses to whom she's being compared, you realize it: None of those women are Julia Roberts. That doesn't mean they are lesser actresses or lesser performers than Julia Roberts; it means they do not exist in the same cultural space.

Some of them can be thrown out because they have been primarily marketed to men, not women — Demi Moore and Halle Berry, to name the most glaring examples. Some have rarely played leads. Some make mostly bad movies. Most haven't made enough movies since they turned 40 to make the data meaningful.

There are plenty of valid reasons not to like Julia Roberts. I haven't Googled "Julia Roberts" and "great big teeth," but I'm guessing it is a fruitful exercise in skeptic-locating. But the pre-writing of her cinematic obituary because nobody watched Ashley Judd as the third lead in Crossing Over (which opened in limited release at the end of February and appears to be the only movie Ashley Judd has been in since turning 40), or because Sandra Bullock as Harper Lee in Infamous made less money than Sandra Bullock in Speed is a lot of hocus-pocus.

There's never been Julia Roberts at 41 at this particular moment in pop-culture history before. Perhaps she's past her prime, and perhaps she's not. But I wouldn't break out the support hose just yet.