February 22, 2005 -- “Being Julia” is a witty, wicked, uncompromising story about youth, beauty, and a grudging battle against age and decline set in the posh London theater district of the late 1930s. There have been loads of comedies set in the world of theater, but few have the uncompromising, hard edge that this film has. Most tend to be soft-headed, fuzzy and romantic. This film shows the glamorous side of theater, but also the hard and cruel side of the business.
Annette Bening (“American Beauty”) stars as Julia Lambert, the aging toast of the London stage scene. She and her husband, Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons of “Lolita”) own a theater. Julia is starring in a successful production which is beginning to wind down. She is tired of the play and wants out, but Michael and the other backers don't want to end the production as long as it is still selling tickets. Michael and others are willing to put up with Julia's diva act. They are willing to be manipulated by her, but only up to a certain point. Later, Julia becomes involved in a torrid affair with a young man and her passion for the stage is re-energized.
Soon, however, things start spinning out of control and Julia begins to feel her age. She is afraid that her star is fading, and she feels she has been wronged. She needs to come up with a plan in a hurry that will not only reignite her stardom, but will give her revenge for the wrongs she feels she has suffered at the hands of others. Her scheme is both outrageous and very funny.
Bening earned a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for her excellent performance in this film. It is a performance that covers a full range of emotions, but it is also finely nuanced. She hits every note perfectly. Not only that, but she also pulls off the trick of acting like she's acting, both on stage and when she uses her acting ability to manipulate other characters. Needless to say, it is a fine line between acting like you are acting and acting like you are not acting, but she successfully communicates that distinction time and again in this film. It is quite a tour de force, considerably better than her over-praised, over-the-top performance in “American Beauty.”
Another good performance is given by Juliet Stvenson of “Mona Lisa Smile,” who plays Julia's maid, Evie. Evie is the one character in the film who seems solidly tied to reality. All of the games and manipulations of all the other characters are put into perspective by Evie's knowing looks. She alone sees past all fantasies and lies. Another interesting character is Julia's son, Roger Gosselyn (Thomas Sturridge). Most of the characters in the movie, including Julia, are scoundrels, but Roger is a decent chap who tells the truth on occasion. Another interesting character is the ghost of a legendary acting coach Jimmy Langton (Michael Gambon of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) who appears to Julia to give her dubious advice.
The film is also well-written and it looks good, featuring sumptuous costumes and sets. It is an entertaining little romp, but it might have been better if some of the characters had a little nobility and dignity. Instead, they are almost all insufferable, spoiled snots, but some of them are also charming. This film rates a B.
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