Being Julia review by Tom Blain

With this movie year being pretty dead, my only solace was in the Chicago International Film Festival. Its a pretty local film fest that usually serves up a wide range of foreign films, with a modest selection of independent and not-yet-widely-released domestic art films. Heck, if the big-time Hollywood movies arent doing it for you, its time to give the little guy a shot. One title that intrigued me was Being Julia. At first glance, the title gives off a hint of chick flick but upon further review the film had promise, being adapted from a Somerset Maugham novel, directed by a notable foreign director, and showcasing a formidable cast. To my delight it filled that void left by a smattering of dry formulaic summer busts.

Being Julia takes place in London, 1938. Julia Lambert (Annette Benning) is a popular stage actress, whose running a bit dry on inspiration. She is reaching a sort of feminine mid-life crisis; after all its hard being a stage diva night-in and night-out. Her marriage to theatre producer Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons) is sensible and stable, but low on the passion and flare it takes give the artist a glow. Along, comes her muse, a seemingly dorky golly jeepers 20-something Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans) from the United States. He talks as if he came straight from the small-town Midwest and is enamored with Lamberts good looks, and stage talent. At first she shows little interest in the sap, only curiosity. But his youth, good looks, and adoration get the better of her.

Julia tricks herself into thinking she is in love with this boy (young enough to be her son), and begins acting with a new found glow. Eventually though, as most affairs do, theirs comes to a not so beautiful end as she discovers Toms seemingly shallow waters run a little bit deeper and that he is not the sweet boy she once thought. Julia, having played the part of the fool, tries to find a way to regain her confidence, decency, and well to be blunt, vanity. In the final act, she extracts a bit of revenge, asserting herself as the queen of the stage. The grand finale comes with a number of belly laughs for audience members both in the theatre and in the film.

The brilliance of the Julias character comes in her constant acting. She spends every night on stage, pouring out her heart, crying on command, and generating laughter. So its only natural to expect her to play a part in real life. Her deceased acting coach Jimmy Langton (Michael Gambon) speaks to her, either caught in her imagination or as some ghostly character, coaching her during her personal life as well as her stage life as if they are one in the same. During the film, she repeats a heartfelt line to two different men during the film, as if she had memorized a monologue. She is even caught by her own son, who accuses her of repeating lines from past plays to give him advice. This is probably the best performance I have seen from Annette Benning, even greater than her Oscar Winning performance in American Beauty.

The character of Tom should also be given credit. He slowly transitions from a guy who is star struck and simple, to being a deceitful social climber. Relatively new actor Shaun Evans makes the transition between the two seamless and should be given high marks. He played both sides of the coin brilliantly.

Being Julia could end up being another Oscar vehicle for Benning. Im not sure if it will receive nation-wide audience acceptance (as it should), and most will view it as what Frida was for Salma Hayek. But the film itself is excellent, spun by veteran Hungarian director, Istvan Szabo, cleverly adapted from a Sommerset Maugham novella, and containing an outstanding supporting cast. This is definitely a diamond in a fairly poor movie going year.




8 out of 10 Jackasses
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