Defying Odds with Erin Brockovich, the Achiever of The American Dream

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The film Erin Brockovich is a real-life example of the American dream. It shows how if you choose to work hard and not give up, you will find success in whatever you choose. The movie shines light on relevant social issues and how one person, if they are truly passionate, can make a change. The story follows Erin Brockovich, a single mother who is looking for employment after recently getting into a car accident. Erin’s character type is a dynamic protagonist. “Dynamic” means that the audience sees a change in her character throughout the film (Kokemuller). Her shift in character begins when she is given the files for a real estate case where PG&E wants to buy Donna Jensen’s home. Erin starts her own investigation on the case, finding evidence about the contaminated groundwater caused by PG&E who are now trying to cover their tracks. When Erin finds out this information, her goal in the film shifts from just finding a job to make money and support her family to actually feeling passionate about this case and the people affected. The film opens up with Erin in a job interview, quickly making up skills that she is good at in order to get the job. She mentions being good in “geology” which we quickly realize she means “geography.” Later on, she makes a spectacle at Ed Mastry’s office to convince him to give her a job. Mastry was unable to win Erin’s case because of her confrontational behavior in the courtroom. As the story progresses and Erin digs deeper in the PG&E case, we see her confrontational behavior deteriorate and she focuses on fighting for the people who are affected by the contaminated water.

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Erin Brockovich is an example of realism based on its discussion of social issues and how Erin follows the “American dream.” Cinematic realism refers to how the film relates to reality and the believability of the characters and events (“Realism”). The American dream is the idea that if one works hard, they will be able to succeed. Erin Brockovich is an example of this because Erin’s character goes through the hardships of being a lower class, single-mother who has little to no education but is determined to defy the constraints of which she is held. She consistently thrown obstacles throughout the film in order to set her back in her goals and she continually works hard to face them. In the beginning she gets into a car accident and ultimately does not win the case in court. She then marches into Mastry’s office and he reluctantly gives her a job. When she is given the PG&E case, we see Erin various scenes staying up late reading and highlighting the details of the case. When Mastry agrees to take on the case, she goes door to door and gets all of the plaintiffs to fight against PG&E. In the end, PG&E is required to pay each family effected a lump sum of money and Erin is awarded a bonus payment from Mastry of $2 million. Her persistence throughout these parts of the movie shows how she is an example of the American dream. Erin works hard to get what she wants for both her job and the people of Hinkley and finally reaches her goal in the end. The film is also an example of realism because it deals with real-life societal issues. The issue of groundwater contamination which effects the livelihood of the citizens of Hinkley is something prevalent in today’s society. This social issue that is discussed in the film can be linked to the Flint water crisis that is currently still taking place in Michigan. Over 100,000 residents of Flint have been exposed to higher lead levels due to inadequate water treatment. According to Pezzullo, “Although all films arguably have some relevance to social change, as struggles based on “true life stories,” CA and EB [Erin Brockovich] might best be appreciated as part of the more specific category of the social problem film genre” (27). Genre is the category, based on subject matter, that a film falls into.

An aspect of the film that is discussed by critics is the effect the casting and costuming has on the environmental issues at hand. Pezzullo poses the question, “Yes, the linking of environmentalism with sexy stars brings increased attention, but does it help or harm environmental efforts to be associated with what or who is sexy?” (22). Julia Roberts, a highly known actress was cast as the lead, Erin Brockovich, in the film. This brings up the notion of whether people would have cared about the societal issue of water contamination if Roberts was not the star of the film. As mentioned, the Flint water crisis is something very serious and relevant in today’s society. Therefore, regardless of whether Robert’s was in the film or not, the population would have to address these environmental issues because they really effect our world. Pezzullo writes, “Given the elite status of stars and those that produce the films in which they appear, many have pointed out that stars tend to serve a conservative function, reinforcing dominate values” (27). This means that the casting of Julia Roberts as the lead inherently makes her function as a symbol of environmentalism. When people think of Erin Brockovich, they picture Julia Roberts and her role as a person fighting for the environment.

The costuming of Erin Brockovich was deliberate and highlights how the wardrobe that a woman is wearing doesn’t define her level of work. Erin spends the majority of the film in what some may call “proactive” outfits. Her wardrobe is full of short, leather skirts, skinny tops with cleavage showing. Although some may criticize the wardrobe of Erin Brockovich, I think it further exemplifies how hard she worked to gain success. Her outfits and costume design shouldn’t affect her outcome. Erin worked hard and persevered though the film in order to get what she wanted in the end. I think the film, Erin Brockovich, was a good film because of the message it portrays and the story it tells of Erin. In the beginning, there is a feeling of empathy for Erin but at times I found myself wanting to tell her to stop being so aggressive. The character arc that she goes through is one of the best parts of the movie because you really see the shift in her character from beginning to end. The journey she goes on through the PG&E case shows how hard work can really pay off. In the end, Erin was payed so much money because of her contributions and can now breathe easier knowing her family will survive.

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