- István Szabó
- Reviewed by
- José Ruiloba a.k.a. Morris
- Review date
- Monday, February 28, 2005
Julia (Annette Bening) is a winning theater actress, in 30’s London, married (“in name only,” she says) to Jimmie Langdon (Jeremy Irons), the producer of her plays, namely of the very successful one in which she is starring at the moment. But one day she becomes exhausted, and that’s about the time she meets a young American accountant, Tom (Shaun Evans), with whom she is soon smitten. That is, when she’s not fooling around with old flame Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood). Suddenly she revives, but relationship complications force her to surrender once again, and the appearance of a young beautiful actress in the scene, Avice (Lucy Punch), doesn’t help matters at all.
Being Julia is based upon “Theatre”, a novel by W. Domerset Maugham. The film, and the novel for that matter, are obvious reminders/homage of All About Eve (1950), the classic movie that showed the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of theater and focused on an actress whose spark started to fade with age. Julia’s predicament is just about the same. Just like Margo, Julia’s entire world is like a play, as if she were constantly on stage, and the line between the two worlds is blurry. It’s difficult to differentiate if she’s acting or reacting naturally, even to her own son (Thomas Sturridge), with whom Julia shares some of the best scenes in the movie.
Melodrama takes center stage in this István Szabó film. At first I thought it was an obvious fault, but then I realized… life is a melodrama for Julia. She uses her assets and talent to get what she wants. She goes through life as if everything were about her. And when something threatens her during the second half of the movie, her reaction is not pretty. That also leads to a rousing, completely exhilarating and killer finale, which is worth any flaw you might’ve found in the movie before it gets there.
That said, I could’ve used a little more exposition for most supporting characters. Julia is the lead and she is shown as a three-dimensional character after a while. But everyone else just seems to wander around. Even Jeremy Irons, who also boasts a top credit, disappears through long stretches of the movie. We barely get a glimpse of the fascinating relationship between him and Julia, which gets even more interesting towards the end.
But then, I was always entertained and never bored, which is certainly a plus, even if I was left with barely anything at the end. I love fascinating characters and Julia is one, so the movie works in that regard.
And Annette Bening, as Julia, is nothing short of luminous. When I started watching the movie I thought Bening would play Julia as the clichéd diva we get in so many movies, but I was pleasantly surprised that she gave her another dimension. She can’t stop genuinely laughing, which is a weird small pleasure the character exudes and that comes from very unexpected moments. And Bening makes it seem so natural that it’s only shocking to realize it’s the same person who does the things she does at the end of the movie. It is a wonderful, lively, full-rounded performance!
Technical aspects are also top-notch, with the score and the costumes getting the highest marks.
"You have a performance for everybody. I don't think you really exist."
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