Rooting For 'Eat Pray Love' To Put The Julia Roberts Death Watch To Bed Julia Roberts has another movie opening, and you know what that means: it's time to evaluate whether she has dropped into irrelevance forever. Perhaps if her new movie is a success, this can stop.
NPR logo Rooting For 'Eat Pray Love' To Put The Julia Roberts Death Watch To Bed

Rooting For 'Eat Pray Love' To Put The Julia Roberts Death Watch To Bed

Here, Julia Roberts attends the premiere of Eat Pray Love. Rumors of her death seem premature. Michael Loccisano/Getty Images North America hide caption

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Michael Loccisano/Getty Images North America

I'm not particularly interested in Eat Pray Love, I have to tell you. I own the book; I have not brought myself to read it. I might see the movie. I might not.

But I am rooting for it to become a giant smash hit, because maybe that would mean I would never have to read another "Is Julia Roberts Dead Yet?" piece as long as I live. (Or, for that matter, a piece like "Why Does Everyone Hate Julia Roberts?", which claims that you can tell from Roberts' smile that she's a bad person, and that having had three -- THREE! -- well-known boyfriends before her husband raises the reasonable suspicion that she is "a bit of a man-eater.")

I want to keep this reasonably short, because we covered this when Duplicity came out, but it's worth noting a few issues with, for instance, this effort to evaluate her prospects.

The entire idea that Julia Roberts built her career as a rom-com queen is a questionable one. During her original period of popularity, she also made Steel Magnolias, Sleeping With The Enemy, Hook, and The Pelican Brief. Chuckle at Mary Reilly all you like -- The Pelican Brief made 100 million bucks. Erin Brockovich made about $125 million. Audiences have never showed any unwillingness to see Roberts in anything except romantic comedies. She may or may not want to return to them. She may or may not need to.

Moreover, the fact that the "Can older actresses carry movies?" question can be discussed for multiple paragraphs without ever raising the name "Sandra Bullock" to anyone's lips is awfully surprising. Sandra Bullock is three years older than Julia Roberts, and can open a romantic comedy just fine, thank you, including one where she plays opposite a much younger actor. She can also open The Blind Side -- a role Roberts reportedly turned down. This would tend to suggest that the younger/older thing is not quite as simple as it might appear. Perhaps it's more about the individual actor and the individual role?

Furthermore, the statement that "younger actresses like Reese Witherspoon, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Aniston, Katherine Heigl, or Anne Hathaway" are now getting all the rom-com leads needs clarifying: Jennifer Aniston is about a year and a half younger than Julia Roberts, who's currently 42. These actresses, in short, range in age from Aniston (who's 41) down to Hathaway (who's 27). It's not a very coherent picture of a strictly age-limited cohort. Meanwhile, Roberts' "rival," Diane Lane, is 45. If Aniston is of a different breed than Roberts, then Roberts is certainly of a different breed than Lane. And honestly, the older Bullock belongs on this list, too, if we're talking about women who are currently doing romantic comedies that are successful. I'm not sure younger actresses have taken Roberts' spot in this genre right now as much as other actresses have.

It seems very plausible that time away from her fans has hurt Julia Roberts, who's only chosen to make four live-action movies in the last five years -- one of which was a smallish role in Valentine's Day. But if we must listen to these "Julia Roberts Death Watch" pieces every time she has a movie coming out, I dearly hope we're also going to get a few about George Clooney when his upcoming The American opens -- since he hasn't seen a non-Ocean's movie gross more than $100 million since 2000.