Can Julia Roberts come back on her own terms?


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The feeling around Hollywood lately is that Sandra Bullock has in some ways walked off with Julia Roberts’ career. The actress opted for “The Proposal” after Roberts passed and starred in “The Blind Side,” which had been first offered to Roberts back when the film was at Fox.

Roberts has instead decided to focus on her family, stepping back in to the limelight mainly to play supporting parts in movies like “Charlie Wilson’s War” and ensemble roles like the one she has in the upcoming Garry Marshall flick “Valentine’s Day” (which, as those ubiquitous TV ads have shown, has Roberts playing a soldier who flirts outrageously with Bradley Cooper).


‘Duplicity” last year marked a comeback of sorts, but while the complex thriller impressed the critics, regular Joes appear to have found the tale of two corporate spies a little remote.

Now comes word that Roberts is taking on another lead role, with “Charlie Wilson’s War” buddy Tom Hanks writing and directing a movie for the two of them about a man re-inventing his life at middle age. The man endures a midlife crisis and joins a kids’ Vespa gang; Roberts plays an instructor at a school that Hanks’ character enrolls in. (Clearly the midlife-crisis theme is resonant for Hanks – he also owns the rights to the book “How Starbucks Changed My Life,” a memoir about a man who goes to work at Starbucks at age 63 after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor.)

Fans (this writer included) tend to feel like it’s been a long time since they’ve gotten their fix of the big wide smile and the whole smiling-through-tears moment that seems to come in every commercial movie she does, from “Pretty Woman” to “Notting Hill.”

Of course, the more limited work schedule is not just a family thing for Roberts. She’s now choosing her films on a lot more than their commercial appeal, taking on ambitious projects that offer her the chance to play meatier roles.

In August, she’ll be seen doing just that when “Eat, Pray, Love,” the adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestselling memoir about a woman who travels the globe after her divorce, hits the screen. That movie has general appeal and should stoke fan interest (especially the pairing of Roberts and Javier Bardem). But directed by “Nip/Tuck” creator Ryan Murphy, it also appears to be the kind of film that works in Roberts’ interest in more prestige fare.

Last spring, Roberts told this paper that she can’t imagine herself recycling the romantic rescue tropes that endeared her to audiences in the ‘90s. “I can’t play those parts anymore,” she said. “It just doesn’t work for me at 41, with three kids and happily married.”


But as the skyrocketing careers of Sandra Bullock and Meryl Streep have demonstrated recently, in contemporary you can also tell real stories about women over 40 that have genuine broad appeal. You can be, in other words, the new Julia Roberts.

-- Rachel Abramowitz