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Reese is the new Julia

March 12, 2006 |  9:28 pm

On Oscar night, Reese Witherspoon emerged as more than just a best actress champ. To America's female filmgoers, she became the new Julia Roberts — a beauteous superstar simultaneously revered as a Hollywood goddess and beloved as just one of the girls.

Julia Roberts Reese Witherspoon

Reese's brilliant Oscar speech cinched her new lead role. It was a miraculous, last-minute rally. Reese's thank-yous at the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes had been boring bombs. When Reese's name was announced as Oscar winner, many journalists backstage winced, fearful that the girl from Tennessee would give them more dull homespun banalities not worth quoting.

Instead, when she opened her mouth at the podium, a superstar was born.

Reese gave another Oscar-worthy performance thanking her parents for their support: "It didn't matter if I was just making my bed or making a movie. They never hesitated to say how proud they were of me and that means so very much to a child." Her verbal twang gave the words southern comfort.

But her next words buzzed with dramatic intensity when Reese recalled how June Carter Cash used to say, perkily, "I'm just trying to matter!" — then Reese added humbly: "I know what she means, you know. I'm just trying to matter and live a good life and make work that means something to somebody and you have all made me feel that I might have accomplished that tonight."

Bingo. Reese said just the right poignant things, winning over the hearts of TV viewers while moving on up to the Oscars pantheon. There she will reign as a special Oscar champ, not just another Charlize Theron or Helen Hunt. No, no. Reese did what Julia and Nicole Kidman did. She made female film fans bond with her in an extraordinary way. She now represents them. They identify with her just like Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and J.Lo on the pop culture scene — with several key differences: Reese is no bimbo, she's smart and she can act.

Photos: Julia Roberts and Reese Witherspoon are superstars who come across as every girl's best friend.
(Universal Pictures / Twentieth Century Fox)

And not just act, but Reese has demonstrated impressive emotional range. That's what all of the fuss has been about over "Walk the Line." The screen queen of such wry comedies as "Legally Blonde" and "Election" showed us how well she can handle drama.

Julia Roberts gave us glimpses of similar dramatic skill early in her career ("Mystic Pizza," "Steel Magnolias"), but then became a popular star performing comedies like "Pretty Woman" and "My Best Friend's Wedding." When she hit moviegoers next with the emotional wallop of "Erin Brockovich" — thus proving that she can, egads, really act — Julia grabbed an Oscar.

Reese and Julia not only have that career experience in common, but they both have similar personal lives as glamorous starlets with cute toddlers and hunky hubbies.

Next there are parallels between Julia's and Reese's regal paychecks. Reese denies the rumor that she'll be paid $29 million for starring in the horror film "Our Family Trouble," but it's clear she'll be paid a lot. The question is: Is it as much as Julia made for "Mona Lisa Smile"? ($25 million) Reese earned $15 million for each of her last two flicks: "Vanity Fair" and "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde." Presumably, her new paycheck will be north of that.

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Comments

Actually, I found Clooney's speech off-putting. It seemed like he had been waiting to deliver that speech for months, and because he had not won any awards after the Golden Globes, he could only deliver it on the Oscar stage. Clooney didn't thank anyone in his speech...it was as though he stepped on that stage to lecture all of us. Frankly, he is becoming too self-absorbed for his own good.

Reese however delivered a heartfelt thank you speech (isn't that what Oscar speeches are supposed to be...to thank people who got you there? If I wanted political speeches, I'd turn to CSPAN). I prefer that speech over the crying spells we've had from past actress winners like Charlize.

Tom O' Neil, if this is your way of saving face again after your much-criticized piece on "Why Felicity lost", well it's not working. Your bias against Reese is still showing. Just can't resist including a veiled insult at her every single time, can't you?

There was nothing WET or BLAND about Reese or her speech. But you are correct about her being LIKEABLE!

I never said Reese wasn't sincere. A hallmark greeting card with a bad poem in it is no doubt meant to be sincere by the person who sends it. That doesn't mean it's still not sappy and sentimental.

I like Reese. She's a very appealling actrress. But just because someone says something heartfelt doesn't make it a great speech. The speeches Peter O'Toole and Robert Wise gave when they got their honorary awards in the past few years were heartfelt and moving and witty and eloquent. The speech George Clooney gave was obviously genuine, but also well-phrased and witty and provocative.

Reese -- bless her likeable heart -- struck me as wet and bland.

Reese's speech was the best of the night. Reese is a sincere, family-oriented and very dwon-to-earth person. If you were embarrassed by her speech, then genuine people must offend you. It in no way was remotely similar to Ms. Field's speech. I just love the sound of it--Oscar winning actress, Reese Witherspoon!!!

I thought Reese's speech was heartfelt and genuine. She was good in her first film "Man in the Moon" when she was 14, and has been improving ever since. That speech will serve her well for years to come.

God -- am I the only one who found Reese's sappy, sentimental speech a total cringe-making embarrassment? It reminded me of Sally Field's equally sappy, perky "You like me". Yuck!!!


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