BEING JULIA (István Szabó, 2004)
Annette Bening stars as a theatrical diva in BEING JULIA. The London stage of the 1930s is Julia’s world. Everyone else is blessed to occupy it or so she thinks. Tired of the daily grind, Julia asks her husband to close the theater for a period. She changes her mind about needing rest upon meeting Tom, a young American fan who fawns over her and attends to her carnal desires. When she learns that Tom has been using her to advance in the local scene, Julia puts on a performance to settle the score.
When the ingénue character invites Julia to see her perform, she mentions that her part is better than the play. That’s also an apt description of BEING JULIA. Bening sinks her teeth into a juicy role. She gets the best one-liners. The final scene, tailor-made for award shows, allows her to play to the rafters while vanquishing Julia’s competition and embarrassing her enemies. Bening comports herself with style, attitude, and intelligence. She gives Julia a larger than life personality, and it’s great fun to watch her take control of everyone. The film, though, lacks the vitality found in Julia. While much of BEING JULIA’S appeal stems from no one being as fabulous as she is, the lack of a worthy sparring partner diminishes the fun. In the middle section Julia takes a vacation to get away from it all. The character may have needed it, but the film can’t recover from these plodding scenes. BEING JULIA works best as an actress showcase than as an overall entertainment. Bening is worth seeing, but I’m not sold on the film.
(Review first aired on the December 7, 2004 NOW PLAYING)