Why Isn’t Julia Roberts A Gay Icon? Or Is She?

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Usually with (mostly) beloved actresses, I feel confident nominating them to be gay icons. Emma Thompson? Done. Jamie Lee Curtis? Yes. Julie Bowen, Kristen Bell, Elizabeth Banks, Whoopi Goldberg, and Amy Poehler? I didn’t flinch at all during that sentence.

But for some reason Julia Roberts, a mega-star even among the aforementioned names,  is a question mark in this area. She’s certainly had enough fabulous roles to be considered fabulous, but I personally can’t name many gay friends who leap at the news of her next movie. Her megastar contemporary Sandra Bullock, however, completely fits this bill, and I’m not entirely sure why. Does Julia secretly qualify? I’ll give her the Kate Middleton treatment and weigh the pros and cons.

Pros

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1. She won a justly deserved Best Actress Oscar for a comic performance.

Guys, this doesn’t happen often. Julia Roberts took on the role of Erin Brockovich, imbued her with the sort of Ford Tough quippy grit we expect from supporting actresses on Roseanne, and turned what could’ve been a normal underdog biopic into very entertaining cinema. She’s on fire in Erin Brockovich, and I’m not sure we’ve seen as commanding a comic performance in that category since. Unless you count the unintentional comedy of the abysmal Black Swan.

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2. She is forever the reigning queen of light prostitute comedy.

I’m done with Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Julia’s performance in Pretty Woman holds up so well and beams with such ebullience, fun, and sarcasm that you feel like prostitution is a downright quaint profession. Again: That didn’t have to be an Oscar-nominated performance to work. But it was intensely deserving, and if Kathy Bates hadn’t played anatomical croquet with James Caan‘s foot, Julia might’ve been the Jennifer Lawrence — i.e. the 22-year-old comic Oscar winner — of her generation.

3. She may be the last great talk show guest.

We need our kickass female talk show guests back. Teri Garr, we need you. Sandra Bernhard, we need you. Sandra Bullock, you’re doing fine in this category. But the days of wonderful, charismatic rapport between host and guest peaked with Julia Roberts’ Letterman appearances beginning in 1989. Their dry, but spirited ratatat is pretty much unmatched. Dave’s got a crush, and Julia just has a blast saying whatever comes to mind. It makes you think, “She might be a great romantic comedy star someday!”

4. She is hilarious, full stop.

This sounds like hyperbole, but I may actually mean it: Julia’s speech at this Tom Hanks tribute may be the funniest thing I’ve ever seen a celebrity write and present. (Emma Thompson’s Golden Globe speech ranks second.) She actually figured out an awesome way to toast the venerable Hanks: listing all the movies of his that she didn’t care about. “I love the Coen brothers, but Tom, that hair — I had no idea what the f*ck that movie was about. And you in the airport with that accent? That was a pass for me.” Just amazingly funny. I always look forward to panels where Julia gets to talk, because the woman is divine with a quote.

5. She upstages Meryl. I said it.

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August: Osage County is a two-and-a-half-star, all-too-breezy melodrama in its movie form, but Julia is a dead-eyed mountain lion putting up with n-o-t-h-i-n-g as Meryl Streep’s wary daughter. Meryl seems almost lost in a vaudevillian daze here, but Julia constantly brings that kookiness back to Earth with damning accusations and actions. “Eat your fish, b*tch!” she hollers at a thunderstruck Meryl, who has no choice but to be awakened from her listless stupor. This is Julia’s best work in years and the true reason to see this movie.
Cons

1. She lost us by earning $25 million for Mona Lisa Smile.

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Is the big difference between Julia and Sandra Bullock that we feel like Julia pulled one over on us? That she made too much money for too many mediocre projects? The woman made $25 million for Mona Lisa Smile, a movie that fails to capture the liveliness of the painting, and she pulled in a similar sum for Larry Crowne and Eat Pray Love, two films I refuse to think about. Maybe we have a Julia grudge.

2. She’s never been goofy enough on film.

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With the exception of My Best Friend’s Wedding, I don’t really see a moment in the Julia Roberts filmography where she’s given us the gall and comic self-deprecation of, say, a Miss Congeniality. Truthfully, Julia is not that self-deprecating. But why should she be? I hate that that’s a requisite for female icons in 2014. You go on owning everything, Julia. Everything is yours.

3. Her taste in celebrity men has always been disappointing. 

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Kiefer Sutherland? Lyle Lovett? The dulcet nothingness of Benjamin Bratt? Say what you will about Madonna’s marital horror shows, but you can at least kind of see why a firebrand like her would be attracted to a full-on maniac like Sean Penn. It just cosmically works. With Julia, her tastes have always perplexed and provoked a head-scratch. One man will be nothing like the next. And do we know a damn thing about Danny Moder? See, we don’t. Not relatable enough, Julia! Try again!

Your turn. Is Julia a gay icon? For me, it’s a definite, super-duper, Pelican Brief-explosion-scene YES.

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