Object: Julia Roberts Memorabilia

T Kira Māhealani Madden
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  • Based on the actor Julia Roberts
  • Draws on material from Homecoming, Runaway Bride, Erin Brockovich, My Best Friend’s Wedding, Notting Hill, and Pretty Woman
  • Takes the form of pillowcases, blankets, and posters

In our home, Julias are everywhere. When we rest, it’s on Julia’s face; when we sleep, it’s under fleecy-soft Julia; when we say good morning, it’s to Julia: framed and smiling on the wall. That piece—the framed photograph—features a shot of Julia in an updo and beaded cardigan, in the scene in My Best Friend’s Wedding where she acts like a real bitch to Kimmy, though the online ad for the photo had read “Julia Signed Glossy ‘Runaway Bride.’” The photo is autographed by Julia herself in blue marker—maybe. It didn’t come with a certificate or anything. 

I don’t remember when my wife, Hannah, and I discovered our mutual love of Julia Roberts, but at some point we did. Julia was even part of our wedding. We made custom seating tiles for each guest, featuring images of things they loved, things that reminded us of them. We didn’t know what to choose for our own tiles (too much pressure), so we pasted on images of Jules and George at the titular event in My Best Friend’s Wedding, two characters dressed up and hopeful on their clunker flip phones, eternal like that, ready to dance. I even surprised Hannah with a performance of a scene from that movie, the musical number (“From I moment I wake up…”), with all the guests in on it, singing, and later asking, “Why Julia?” I played George. 

Fleece-blanket Julia shows Pretty Woman’s Vivian Ward in the white-and-blue minidress we all recognize, its silver ring at her stomach. I like to fold the blanket so her face and teeth are always showing, beaming from the couch, not her bare torso, not her legs—too objectifying. Pillow Julia is harder to pin down, role-wise. In the blurry image, Julia’s hair is wavy and fanned out in the wind—her laughter radiates from the screen-printed pillowcase. It is a hard pillow, cheap, rough, almost squeaky in its plasticity, a ball from the McDonald’s ball pit—except, no, it’s Julia. Still, it might be my favorite of things.

“Julia Roberts is the devil,” a friend texted me when I posted a photo of the Julia pillow. The friend then sent articles about Julia Roberts: about when she’d slept with a married man and worn the married man’s wife’s name on her T-shirt, terrorizing her. No, no, no, no, I thought. I don’t want to know. “Test Audiences Hated Julia Roberts’ Happy Ending in ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’: ‘They Wanted Her Dead,’” read a headline in ET Canada. “She’s trash,” the friend went on. “Look for the info… it’s out there.”

I know barely anything about Julia Roberts the human being; neither does Hannah; and we have never wanted to. Julia might disappoint us if we did. Julia is her roles in our house, in our hearts: Jules in her lavender dress, rejected, closing out the wedding by dancing with her gay best friend (who, queer among us, has not at some point been Jules?); Julia as hardscrabble Erin Brockovich, all animal-print tops, guts, and smarts; Julia hinting, but never explaining, what it means to “snow blow”a dude—she knows so much. We even love her as the twisted amnesic therapist in the show Homecoming—she’s kind of a villain, yes, destroying lives, but still we are rooting for her. 

Here’s what I know for real: Julia Roberts has a famous niece, an actor who reads a lot. I know Julia married a guy once, though I often confuse that marriage with another marriage, the one to the guy from Coldplay. Julia wore a suit and tie when she won her Golden Globe, and a black-and-white dress for her Oscar. That’s about all. 

I’m a gay, Jewish woman of color. My life has never been represented in the roles of Julia Roberts, not even a little. But when are we too old to play make-believe? When do we need one last Julia? I don’t want Julia Roberts to be the devil. I don’t want her to be a mean girl. I don’t want her to be an asshole or selfish or wearing a mean T-shirt or even to be Julia Roberts the human being. I want her to be just the Jules in our picture frame, with her maybe-autograph. Because Julia is never Julia but an icon of a phony American wholesomeness that I once dreamed of and believed in. Julia, the illusion of false “simpler” times. Of wearing headphones in a bathtub, the crackle of laughter, of slow-dancing on a ferryboat, of kicking back beer and wearing miniskirts. I don’t wear miniskirts or dance on ferryboats or take baths. I’ve done some of those things, though not in a long time. But Julia reminds me that I have and maybe could again one day. She slurps those noodles in the terrible movie Eat, Pray, Love, but, god, is it delicious. 

My mom visits, looks around, says, “Whoa, that’s a lot of Julia.” But we can never have enough. That’s the point. Another friend, Jo, gets it. For her birthday, her partner adorns a cake with a handwritten frosting note: Julia Roberts has an Oscar. 

I suppose it must be said that I don’t want to sleep with Julia Roberts. Neither does my wife. She is simply “our Julia” when she’s Vivian in polka dots at the racetrack; Anna at the aquarium, about to fuck Jude Law’s character, Dan. It is platonic, our love for Julia, a true longing for every outfit, every tearful kiss, and especially for her little sunglasses in Notting Hill, Julia as “just a girl, standing in front of a boy.” I love Julia eating pizza and dripping jewels and using not-so-great accents. I love that Julia cries, cries, cries while simultaneously smiling that Julia smile—holding everything at the same time—and the crinkle of her face when she does that still brings me to tears. She is Tinker Bell, and she’s put up with so much shit—remember that guy with the cans in Sleeping with the Enemy? My mom loves that one especially. Most Julia roles have one thing in common: her character is underestimated. When Julia’s a stepmom, or sinking an 8-ball in Mystic, Connecticut, I want her to win; when she’s a sex worker, I especially, particularly want her to win. And when she finally gets to shop on Rodeo Drive, it’s like we all get to have our moment, our perfect redemption and perfect outfit: just once, we all get glory.

Those wedding tiles are now coasters in our living room. Drinking glasses stick to them, so sometimes, when I watch movies in the dark and pick up my glass, Julia drops to the floor. Still, she’s indestructible, laminated with a special paint—we took such care to seal them. “I think you are a very bright, very special woman,” Richard Gere’s Edward whispers to Vivian. 

“I want more,” she tells him, in the best scene of all. That freckle under the eye, her hair backlit in Edward’s coral hotel room.“I want the fairy tale.” 

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