Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Review: Annette Bening is Radiant in "Being Julia"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 43 (of 2005) by Leroy Douresseaux

Being Julia (2004)
Running time: 105 minutes (1 hour, 45 minutes)
MPAA – R for some sexuality
DIRECTOR: István Szabó
WRITER: Ronald Harwood (from the novel Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham)
PRODUCER: Robert Lantos
EDITOR: Susan Shipton
Academy Award nominee


Starring: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Shaun Evans, Michael Gambon, Juliet Stevenson, Miriam Margolyes, Bruce Greenwood, Lucy Punch, Tom Sturridge, Rosemary Harris, Rita Tushingham, and Denzal Sinclaire

Annette Bening earned an Oscar nomination (“Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role) for her searing, tour de force performance of feminine wiles and power in Being Julia. Rarely in these recent times has an actress torn up the screen the way Ms. Bening does here. In fact, her performance is worthy of comparisons to Betty Davis in All About Eve and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind. Ms. Bening’s Julia is witty and sharp, and she plays her audience like a harp. Ms. Bening makes what would have been only another costume drama, a biting stage piece that works as a movie.

Set in London, circa 1938, Being Julia follows aging stage actress, Julia Lambert (Ms. Bening), who seeing her youth fading, is looking for some spark to ignite her passions. She demands that her husband, Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), who is also her agent and a theatrical producer, give her an extended vacation. Although Michael is reluctant to do so, he gives in to Julia’s demands. However, Julia meets Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans), a young accountant who works for her husband. Tom is a great admirer of Julia’s, and he makes an advance on her one evening when he invites her to his small flat for tea. Although she first resists, Julia allows Tom to sweep her off her feet in an illicit affair and romance that, if discovered, could ruin her.

All is, however, not as Julia would want it. She must rediscover herself, reconnect with her husband, and open up to her somewhat estranged son, Roger Gosselyn (Tom Sturridge). Leaning on reliable friends such as her dresser Evie (Juliet Stevenson), her long time friend, Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood), and the “spirit” of her drama teacher, Jimmie Langton (Michael Gambon), Julia searches for the balance between two worlds, the stage and life.

Ronald Harwood’s (The Dresser) script for Being Julia focuses on characters, with setting and story being backdrops, and he creates the kind of material a fine cast of actors can transform into a suite of mesmerizing performances that make us forget that the movie might be light on plot and glosses over its settings. Harwood makes even the bit parts juicy, and he makes what could have been a nuisance, Michael Gambon’s role as a kind of ghost, spirit, or figment of Julia’s imagination, Jimmie Langton, something to enhance Julia’s back story and history.

The film is also well directed, and the sets and costumes are equal to all but the most spectacular costume dramas and period films. But in the end, this film belongs to Annette Bening. She gives radiant, fiery life to Julia and makes the audience take this annoying woman into their hearts. Julia isn’t just compelling and winning, as a film character, she’s a beautiful painting created by a performing artist. Ms. Bening takes this character with a shallow personality and by the end of Being Julia, makes her whole.

8 of 10

2005 Academy Awards: 1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role” (Annette Bening)

2005 Golden Globes: 1 nomination: “Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy” (Annette Bening)


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