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You don't have to be a fan of Annette Bening (or Jeremy Irons) to enjoy
this high-spirited tale of theatrical life - or rather, Julia Lambert's
life, to be specific.
Based on a novella by my one of my all-time favorite authors, W. Somerset Maugham, Being Julia is sort of like All About Eve, except not as stage-y. It's a period piece, taking place in England in the '30s, where burnt-out Diva Extraordinaire Julia Lambert is moaning and groaning about her tedious, boring life to anyone who will listen, including her weathered and weary husband (Irons, drolly pipe-puffing his way through the film as only he could). She meets a young, handsome, American fan/opportunist (Shaun Evans, highly effective) and together they rekindle Julia's lust for life.
This is just the first half hour - it gets better and more and more outrageous (and of course more FUN) as it goes on. Needless to say, you won't be bored; in fact, you might very well leave the theater smiling and shaking your head, as I did.
I am not a fan of Annette Benning by any stretch of the imagination. I
thought she was far too old to play the schoolgirlish ingenue in "An
American President", and found her lacking in warmth and charisma as
the love interest in "Open Range". I thought she was okay for what she
had to do in "Dick Tracy", and honestly can't remember her performance
in "American Beauty".
In "Being Julia", however, Benning's performance thoroughly does justice to her larger-than-life character. Benning plays 1930s stage actress Julia Lambert. Julia is by turns melodramatic, egocentric, overbearing and overwrought. She roars into our consciousness from her first scene to her final curtain.
Benning is surrounded by a fine cast of actors and actresses who act as perfect foils for her. Jeremy Irons, especially, is subtle and subdued as her manager husband, Michael Gosselyn. Juliet Stevenson is a sly confederate as Julia's dresser Evie. Miriam Margolyes is a hoot as theatre owner Dolly. Shaun Evans is a feast for the eyes as Tom Fennell, the young cad who breaks Julia's heart. Michael Gambon rounds out the cast as Jimmy Langton, a ghostly mentor to the very much alive and lively Julia.
Julia is not exactly what you would call an admirable human being. She is self-centered, bitchy, catty and vengeful. But, as the Italians say, "revenge is a dish best eaten cold". The film keeps us in suspense as we nervously wait for the other shoe to drop, for Julia to execute her carefully plotted revenge. When she springs her trap, we may shake our heads disapprovingly, but we cannot suppress a hearty laugh.
By its very nature, "Being Julia" is a film that will not appeal to a young demographic. You have to be a certain age to appreciate Julia's predicament of growing old and feeling that life and love have passed her by. Benning bravely allows director Istvan Szabo to film her in merciless and unforgiving closeup, to capture the lines etched in her brow, around her mouth and at her neckline. But the film leaves us with a sense of hope that, like Julia, we may all age like fine wine -- or like the beer whose creamy foam Julia relishes like her life itself: without the slightest trace of sadness or regret.
Tom Sturridge in a lovely performance as Roger, Julia's son, puts it beautifully in a soft confrontation with his mother. "You're playing, mother, or playing wife..." Yes, acting as a way of life as a way of being. Tricky. Ronald Harwood can write the ins and outs of theatrical life better than any living soul - remember "The Dresser? - This is not any way near as good or as insightful but is charming and fun. Lilli Palmer played the part back in the 60's in "Adorable Julia" and she was adorable indeed as is Annette Bening in a tour de force performance with regular interruptions to give plenty of space to the trade mark Bening giggle. Shaun Evans plays the young man, the object of Julia's desire, her frustrating emotional holiday and I must admit, that's the one element that should have sizzle instead of fizzle. Shaun Evans is a good actor but it doesn't have anything that would make us understand the folly attraction that awakes in Julia. He plays an American but appears bland, as bland as a British actor can be when he's bland. I longed for a Billy Crudup or someone younger, a Brad Renfro. Can you imagine what the movie would have been like with a Heath Ledger in that part? Unless, of course, the whole thing was intentional to underline Julia's absurdity. An actress on the verge of a nervous break down. Comparasions with "All About Eve" are ridiculous. That would be like comparing "One Flew Over The Cookoo's Nest" with "The Couch Trip"
Annette Bening does her best work ever in this film set in the 1930's about the life of an English stage actress. Her performance is over-the-top when it needs to be and, at the same time, evinces a trembling vulnerability as in scenes where she begs her young lover to remain with her. Bening's acting will certainly win her an Oscar nomination and should win her the award. It's far and away the best acting -- male or female -- that I've seen this year. (Admittedly, there are many critically praised performances that I haven't seen.) The versatile Michael Gambon will probably not be nominated for his wonderful turn as Bening's acting teacher but he is another of the marvelous things about this film. Jeremy Irons is also very good as the stage/manager-husband as is Juliet Stevenson as the star's personal assistant and dresser. Istvan Szabo, the director, and Ronald Harwood, who adapted the Somerset Maugham story, also deserve mention. Go see it.
I approached this film strictly by way of word of mouth. Reviews and
blurbs went over my head. I haven't read Maughm (sp?) in years and
forgot what I may have read. I went into the theater with a clean
slate. Ms.Benning displays an awesome range of technique, but that
doesn't describe her or the film. She was able to draw me within her to
sense her triumphs and doubts, and challenges, all of which appeared
and felt quite real to me.
In the hands of others this picture might easily have fallen into soap, surely with its "come-upance" finale, all quite expected and predictable, I thought. Still, having said that I was totally absorbed by Ms Benning and her surrounding players all of whom added to the vitality of her performance without negating or diluting their own. I am not an actor yet I felt I understood the lessons she was displaying and the courage to so open herself in such a revealing way.
She is the film, with respect to the director and writer, and the film is her, not a great film, but one worth while seeing on its own, but more so for the opportunity of truly witnessing great craft and talent.
Anyone who enjoys the catty, female-driven movies of old (All About
Eve, The Women, et. al.) and bemoans the idea that they don't make 'em
like they used to should see "Being Julia." Annette Bening is at her
best when she's *not* playing saints, and while Julia isn't nearly as
awful as the roles she played in "The Grifters" or "American Beauty,"
she's wicked enough to delight throughout (and vulnerable enough to
Most of the reviews and award nominations associated with this film will likely heap loads of praise on Annette Bening and little else. She is in nearly every scene, so it's hard to separate her performance from anything else -- and while she is brilliant; the story, direction, costumes, cinematography, art direction, and supporting performances are equally worthy of praise.
Every once in a while, they make one like they used to.
Being Julia is a very entertaining picture aimed at the over 40
demographics, which is nice for a change since most of the films these
days are aimed at the 25 and younger crowd. The story is great. I
haven't read the book, so I don't know if the credit goes to the
screenwriter or the author. Annette Bening's performance carries the
The bad news is, it could have been better. My first complaint is the photography has a yellow/green cast to it, which makes the film visually dull. This is a shame since Annette Bening is so radiant. My second complaint is the directing is competent but not much more. It's pretty much what you would expect from a made for TV film but not an art house film. A visionary director could have made this film great rather than merely good. My third complaint is that it is similar to All About Eve, Sunset Boulevard, and 20th Century; but it is not at the same level of those classics, due to the reasons given above.
This is a film about the theater and in my favorite scene her son tells her that she is always acting. Some people might be turned off by the style of the dialog, but it fits the context of the film. One of the devices of the film is that the ghost of her acting mentor is always watching over her like a guardian angel. The ending of the film couldn't have been better, but I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
Overall, this is currently one of the top 3 films in the theater and if you are lucky enough to have it playing in your area, you should see it. 8/10
This movie is a great bit of fun: over the top in all the right places,
and with many laugh out loud moments. It is bright, emotional,
engaging, and witty, just like the title character, acted to perfection
by Annette Bening.
It's brilliantly acted from top to bottom, with wonderful performances from even relative newcomers, Lucy Punch and Shaun Evans. I especially loved how the many layers of the original work are brought across: how real can be the fantasy world of theatre, and how fantastic the real world may seem in opposition to it. In theatre, they say timing is everything. That's very true about the bulk of the situations in this movie. I would definitely see this movie again.
I went to see this because I was glad to see that the daring Annette
Bening was finally back on screen as a leading lady, four years after
American Beauty. (She really deserves better than supporting Kevin
Costner in a western, doesn't she?) I was not expecting to enjoy it as
much as I did. It looks like a highbrow piece to start with--and it
is--but there are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments and a couple of
sexy scenes worth the price of admission alone. The supporting
performances by the always-great Juliet Stevenson (Bend it Like
Beckham) and Miriam Margolyes (Cold Comfort Farm) are sublime. Their
very presence tipped me off that this would be a winner.
Don't over-analyze this film, just enjoy it. We need more comedies like this and less of the slapstick and/or gross-out variety. Oh, and I almost forgot the best part about this film: It is gloriously schmaltz-free!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
[Minor spoilers ahead-nothing that hasn't appeared in most media
Rare it is that I will put down my tub of obscenely overpriced popcorn to reach out with my arms and attempt to embrace a celluloid character but that was my impulse (controlled, of course) while watching marvelous Annette Bening in "Being Julia" bring a scintillating star of London's West End stage to vivacious life.
Ronald Harwood adapted the original novel by W. Somerset Maugham for Istvan Szabo's film about a slowly aging but still vital doyenne of the dramatic stage who confronts the challenges of mid-life loneliness and the first realization that others await in the wings to replace her.
The time: London in the late Thirties when the lights all over Europe that would soon go out still blazed brightly, especially for the leisure class and those who catered to their needs. Annette Bening is Julia Lambert, an actress in continuous acclaim, a woman whose name emblazoned on the brightly lit marquee insures sell-out audiences whatever the deficiencies of the play. Only in the England that glittered shortly before the war could an actress confidently proclaim that the stage offered the sole opportunity for true acting - the silver screen was for others. Julia's self-confidence is as remarkable as her estimation of the true reality of her profession is wrong. But she has the dubious benefit of a revered first coach's spectral presence, a well-integrated story line.
Lambert is in an affectionately cooperative marriage with actor/manager/money raiser Michael Gosselyn, played by Jeremy Irons who provides just the right dollop of frustrated husband and stern business manager. Yes, Irons can be funny in a very understated, very English manner. This is an amiable couple tied together by their profession and their joint love for their teenage son and some memories. And that's it.
A young American, Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans), appears in the West End seeking work in the theater and Gosselyn obliges. An intense affair develops between the much older actress and the callow Yank on the make (meaning the stereotypical view of Americans often presented as unquestionable reality in so many British flicks). That Julia is so primed for a seduction that requires the barest minimum of effort reflects her growing fear of becoming older. Or old.
Tom is a cad and he plays on Julia's need for adoration and in-the-sack fulfillment. Inhabiting an open marriage with a man she really loves but who furnishes only the memory of earlier connubial excitement, Julia is alternately coyly strong and painfully vulnerable. Just Tom's cuppa.
A young rival also bedded by Tom seeks to find her footing before the bright lights. How Julia accommodates this pesky and obnoxious young twerp's plan to upstage and perhaps supplant the older idol of theatergoers is simply wonderful. It's "All About Eve" with a much wilier veteran actress who knows how to deal with self-worshiping ingenues. The denouement of this escapade is hilarious.
Several other supporting cast members add life and sparkle to the drama cum comedy (or is it the other way around?). Juliet Stevenson shines as Julia's dresser/aide-de-camp/guardian/friend, Evie. A dependable and loving friend but disinclined by nature to assume the duties of a lover, Lord Charles is a nice portrait of a middle-aged aristocrat and he's sympathetically portrayed by Bruce Greenwood.
And Rita Tushingham is very good in a brief appearance as Aunt Carrie and I defy anyone who remembers her from way-back-when to recognize her now. The fates have stolen her beauty, the caterers have augmented her figure.
Director Istvan Szabo, with a crew that is decidedly non-English, did wonders bringing this brisk novel to the screen. I suspect he had little to do to allow Annette Bening to blossom in and command the lead role. I've always enjoyed her acting but "Being Julia" is a quantum leap in accomplishment.
The cinematography is excellent and pre-war, tragically soon to be Blitzed, London is a nostalgic delight.
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