Forget 'Inception.' For me, the movie event of the summer is 'Eat Pray Love.'
Objectively speaking, I shouldn't have anticipated the movie in the first place. I haven't read the memoir it's based on (I meant to last week, but then I got lazy) and, as a twentysomething male, I'm not exactly its target audience.
But none of that matters when you factor in its star, Julia Roberts, an actress whom I love unconditionally and, as my friends so often like to point out, irrationally.
When did my love affair with Roberts begin? I'm not exactly sure. There was never a defining moment, like when I saw 'Cool Hand Luke' and quickly declared Paul Newman to be my favorite actor ever; rather, it seemed to have evolved over time, through multiple viewings of hits like 'Pretty Woman,' 'Steel Magnolias,' 'My Best Friend's Wedding' and 'Erin Brockovich.'
Whatever the reason, I'm a huge Julia Roberts fan. Anytime I see a Roberts movie on television, I will stop and watch it. Anytime I hear she's been cast in an upcoming movie, I immediately get excited. For the past 10 years, I have sat through movies like 'Mona Lisa Smile' and 'Closer' with the naive hope that she will one day receive her fourth Oscar nomination (and, if I'm really feeling greedy, a second win). And all this time, I had assumed that everyone else liked her, too. I mean, where else did the nickname America's Sweetheart come from?
Flash forward to a couple weeks ago, when I casually asked my friends to see 'Eat Pray Love' with me. Their response? Hell-to-the-no. Every single one of them acted like it was an absurd question, as though I was asking them to hide a dead body for me or, even worse, see 'Charlie St. Cloud' instead. (I've since decided to see that one alone.) And worst of all, their refusal to see the movie had nothing to do with the plot or source material and everything to do with its star. "I hate Julia Roberts," they told me. "Hate."
Granted, I've heard people hate on Roberts before, but never among my closest and most trusted friends. So, in my shock and awe, I decided to ask them where this vitriolic hatred came from. What I discovered were things I've heard plenty of times before: She doesn't take risks; she's too famous to be taken seriously as a character actress; she laughs too much.
To be fair, some of these things are indeed true; She does laugh a lot in her movies. But the reasons my friends hate Julia Roberts are the exact reasons I love her so much. I love Julia Roberts because she's Julia Roberts. She's a star -- a larger-than-life actress whose A-list status harkens back to the old studio days of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. At a time when 15 seconds of fame have been reduced to about four, Roberts represents a sense of gravity in Hollywood; even if her career is in the toilet (as it often has been), you get the sense that she will be famous forever. In turn, her movies, which have sadly become more infrequent by the year, feel like an event, as though you're reconnecting with an old friend.
No, she doesn't take many risks in her career; most of her films are about Julia Roberts being Julia Roberts. But that's part of her charm. Take 'My Best Friend's Wedding,' for example. Under normal circumstances, Roberts' character, a writer hellbent on destroying her best friend's engagement, would be considered neurotic, even crazy. But because Roberts has such effortless charisma, she was able to turn what was essentially the villain of the movie into the hero. (Admit it: You were totally rooting for her to win Dermot Mulroney back.) In a sense, she uses it as a launching pad to dive deeper into her character, something you'll see in a number of her best performances, from 'Mystic Pizza' to her Oscar-winning turn in 'Erin Brockovich.'
And you see it again in 'Eat Pray Love.' In this case, Roberts shows a surprising amount of restraint and vulnerability in a movie that often feels overwhelming and epic. It's not her best performance ever, nor is it her best movie. But, in this dismal summer movie season, it's another example of why Julia Roberts still matters.
Do I think she's on the same level as Meryl Streep? No. Do I think she has the best taste in movies? Please. But do I think she deserves more credit than she gets? Heck yes. And rest assured, when she finally wins her second Oscar (it'll happen if it kills me), I'll be right there cheering her on, laughing loudly at all of the haters -- friends included.
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