The trailer for 'Eat, Pray, Love' has made us realize two things: 1.) How much we've missed seeing Julia Roberts star in a big, sparkly feel-good film, and 2.) No actress has stepped up to the plate to succeed her as America's most beloved film actress.

Not that she seems wholly ready to abdicate her throne, but Roberts has made it clear in recent years that she intends to star in fewer films and spend more time with her family. And the fact remains that she's simply too old for certain roles -- specifically, the types of roles that made her famous ('Pretty Woman,' 'Steel Magnolias'). That's not a bad thing, and Roberts is aging into arguably better, more-complex fare; she was stellar in Mike Nichols' dark drama 'Closer' and won an Oscar for her role in 'Erin Brockovich.'

Roberts rose to fame as something of a complex ingenue: There was always something relatable yet unknowable behind those big brown eyes, an elusiveness that endeared her to film audiences. That je ne sais quoi helped her become the biggest female movie star in the world, but, in its wake, it's also created an as-yet unfilled void in American cinema. Who can possibly stand tall in the shoes of a star whose films have grossed over $2 billion at the box office? Is there a young actress out there with the chops and charm to be beloved by both critics and audiences?

Maybe. There may even be two -- if they are up to the challenge.

The trailer for 'Eat, Pray, Love' has made us realize two things: 1.) How much we've missed seeing Julia Roberts star in a big, sparkly feel-good film, and 2.) No actress has stepped up to the plate to succeed her as America's most beloved film actress.

Not that she seems wholly ready to abdicate her throne, but Roberts has made it clear in recent years that she intends to star in fewer films and spend more time with her family. And the fact remains that she's simply too old for certain roles -- specifically, the types of roles that made her famous ('Pretty Woman,' 'Steel Magnolias'). That's not a bad thing, and Roberts is aging into arguably better, more-complex fare; she was stellar in Mike Nichols' dark drama 'Closer' and won an Oscar for her role in 'Erin Brockovich.'


Roberts rose to fame as something of a complex ingenue: There was always something relatable yet unknowable behind those big brown eyes, an elusiveness that endeared her to film audiences. That je ne sais quoi helped her become the biggest female movie star in the world, but, in its wake, it's also created an as-yet unfilled void in American cinema. Who can possibly stand tall in the shoes of a star whose films have grossed over $2 billion at the box office? Is there a young actress out there with the chops and charm to be beloved by both critics and audiences?

Maybe. There may even be two -- if they are up to the challenge.

It's hard not to see the potential in Anne Hathaway and Rachel McAdams. The actresses, ages 27 and 31, respectively, have received their fair share of adoration from audiences and critics. Hathaway scored an Oscar nomination for the Jonathan Demme-directed 'Rachel Getting Married' in 2008 and currently co-stars in the box office smash 'Alice in Wonderland.' McAdams has, time and time again, proven to be the best thing about middling fare, from 'Red Eye' to 'The Time Traveler's Wife,' and has racked up some major box office hits of her own, including 'The Notebook' and last year's 'Sherlock Holmes.'

But, be it through unfortunate career choices or reluctance to step so entirely into the spotlight, neither actress has been able to establish herself as "the next" Julia.

For her part, Hathaway seems the most willing to give it a try. Like Roberts, who smartly formed a lasting working relationship with acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh, Hathaway seems intent on forming relationships with brand-name filmmakers, even if it means she's not the lead. She was perfectly cast as Jake Gylenhaal's suspicious wife in Ang Lee's 'Brokeback Mountain,' and should have joined co-star Michelle Williams as a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee for the film, arguably for that devastating final phone call with Heath Ledger's character, Ennis, alone.

However, Hathaway is sometimes too willing to surrender the spotlight to her co-stars, a noble trait for any performer, to be sure, but not one that lends itself to Roberts-level stardom. Though Meryl Streep walked away with a Best Actress nomination for 'The Devil Wears Prada,' the film was technically Hathaway's -- it was about her character, Andy. (Though, no one is questioning how strong Streep was in the film; she deserved every accolade.) She also played the straight man to Steve Carell's Maxwell Smart in the film adaptation of 'Get Smart.' The film was a hit, grossing over $130 million, domestically, but its success isn't really credited to Hathaway.

The actress has also made some unfortunate choices, presumably in the name of presumptive or hopeful box office success. And though she's often been right in that regard -- many have indeed been hits -- none have done much to advance her career. She appeared opposite Kate Hudson in the woeful 'Bride Wars,' which was released in the heat of Oscar season while she was campaigning for 'Rachel.' Though there was a certain camp that had long before declared that race over -- that it was the long-overdue Kate Winslet's year -- Hathaway, with multiple critics awards in tow, seemed the best bet should there have been an upset ... but 'Brides' probably didn't exactly endear her to voters right when she needed it most. She also recently appeared in 'Valentine's Day,' which enjoys an 18 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

For her part, McAdams seems uninterested in advancing her level of fame. While we won't pretend any sort of inside knowledge, there seems to be an odd complacency in her film choices, as if she is just fine with playing second fiddle -- as she did in 'Holmes,' 'The Family Stone' and 'Wedding Crashers,' and as she will again in the upcoming 'Morning Glory.' When she does step into the lead, it's too often in middling fair: 'The Time Traveler's Wife' did well, but was far from memorable; and 'Married Life' was little-seen. In the six years since she broke through in 'Mean Girls,' McAdams has appeared in only eight films -- three of which were released last year.

But McAdams is deeply appealing, there's no doubt about it. And when she gets it right, she's magic. She stole 'Mean Girls' right out from under Lindsay Lohan with little more than a scowl and a toss of long blonde hair, and she more than held her own opposite a cast of acting heavyweights (Russell Crowe, Helen Mirren) in the underrated 'State of Play.' Then there's 'The Notebook,' a film that has become beloved by some, the success of which has spawned countless lesser adaptations of author Nicholas Sparks' work.

Both actresses have a variety of promising (and some not-so-promising) projects on the horizon; Hathaway, naturally, has far more in the works than McAdams.

To truly step up to the plate and make a play for Julia-style adulation, both actresses will need to learn to mix both prestige pics with more-accessible fare while always keeping an eye on being the lead (at least for the most part, though the odd supporting turn in the right film can beef up any resume, we suppose) and keeping things high-brow. In other words: No more 'Bride Wars'-quality rom-coms for you, Anne.

Anne HathawayHathaway is attached to a 'Get Smart' sequel, which will no doubt be a box-office achiever, thus keeping her above-the-title billing secure, but we're more intrigued by her involvement with 'Get Happy: The Life of Judy Garland.' Playing the beloved, and troubled, star seems a perfect fit for Hathaway, who looks the part and would get to flex her acting chops in a way films like 'Valentine's Day' simply don't allow. 'Get Smart' should appeal to men, while 'Garland' seems a sure fit for women and critics, who will no doubt swoon if Hathaway can bring her signature likability to the troubled Garland.

Hathaway has yet to prove that she can put butts in seats based on her name alone -- something Roberts, at her peak, was routinely celebrated for. The 'Get Smart' sequel won't help with that -- its success will be attributed to brand recognition and Carell -- so she's going to need a few of the six other films IMDB lists her as "in development" on to be both good movies and box office hits.

IMDB has McAdams attached to two projects, both untitled, one directed by Woody Allen, the other by Terrence Malick, director of such classics as 'Badlands' and 'Days of Heaven.' Allen's box office track record has never been his calling card, though the director has experienced a bit of a career resurgence in recent years courtesy of 'Match Point' and 'Vicky Christina Barcelona.' As for Malick, anything he directs is going to grab attention within the movie industry, but it is probably going to need some awards season recognition to gain much mainstream heat.

But fear not, fair ladies, we're here to help. Since you both seem to have the prestige thing happening with your respective slates of upcoming projects, here are some in-development pics that we think could help you along the path toward Julia-level greatness (should you even desire it, that is):

'The Low Self Esteem of Lizzie Gillespie'
-- Written by Brent Forrester and Mindy Kaling ('The Office'), according to Variety, the film is about "a woman whose lack of self-worth has limited her choice in men to losers. Just as she is about to hit the bottom of the barrel, her life takes an unexpected turn when she is pursued by the hottest guy ever." Sure, that might sound like exactly the type of rom-com we've asked you to avoid, but consider that Kaling is the 'Office' writer behind some of the series' most romantic (and often most hilarious) episodes.

'Dark Shadows' -- We're really hoping Tim Burton gets this one right, and if he does there are two killer female roles: Victoria Winters, governess to the Collin's children who comes across some strange goings-on at Collinwood; and Angelique, the villainess witch who just can't get over her love for Barnabus (to be played by Johnny Depp). This Gothic soap opera could turn into an all-out franchise if executed properly, and with Burton at the helm, it could assemble on of the best ensemble casts ever. And if led by two of our most promising actresses, the scenery wouldn't stand a chance.

'Superman: Man of Steel'
-- Yes, it's been done before, but not by the team behind 'The Dark Knight.' Lois Lane is an iconic role, and if the screenwriters stay true to the DC Comic version of Lane as a tough-as-nails reporter, they'll be needing a serious actress.

'Desperados'
-- According to Cinematical, the film, which appeared on the 2009 Black List, an annual roundup of the best un-produced screenplays, is "'The Hangover' meets 'The Sweetest Thing,' but in a good way. This equal parts raunchy and sweet script has LOL moments and the potential to be a big hit, especially with audiences loving movies today with complicated female protagonists." Complicated female protagonists are a rare commodity in romantic comedies ... proceed accordingly.

Rachel McAdamsThere are, of course, many more films in development that we could recommend to these two lovely ladies; frankly, we'd pay to see them in just about anything. We think both are endlessly talented and uniquely appealing. Both have what it takes to inherit Julia's crown. Not that anyone will ever be able to replace Ms. Roberts -- at least not really. And not that they'd want to; both, no doubt, hope to stand on their own as Anne and Rachel.

But in these tabloid-obsessed days, when fame is more often determined by press clippings and blog hits than by awards won and box office tallied, we can't help but hope (dream, really) of a future where wonderfully-talented, scandal-free actresses reclaim the headlines. McAdams and Hathaway just happen to be the surest contenders. Best of luck girls, and if either of you are looking for a date for 'Eat, Pray, Love,' give me a call. I imagine we all could learn a little something from a consummate professional.

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