Film — Being Julia (R)

Being Julia (R)

by Amy Diaz

Annette Bening is all ham and cheese in her role as aging British stage actress Julia Lambert in the All About Annette movie Being Julia.

And, honestly, who can blame an actress like Bening from taking a role like this? It must be refreshing to be able to cut loose and just play it big in a movie—big emotions, big crying, big smiles. Bening flutters and flounces and furies her way through this campy theater tale. The surprise is that between the predictable plot stocked with cliché character and all the Bening mugging a guilty pleasure emerges.

Julia Lambert (Bening) is the unchallenged star of the pre-World-War-II British stage. She appears in overwrought plays that earn her not only gobs of money and crowds of admirers but also a life of excitement. Or at least it did, until recently when, bored with her current production and frustrated with her rather limited social network, Julia longs for “something to happen.” Something comes in the form of Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans), an American helping out Julia’s husband Michael (Jeremy Irons) with the business side of the theater. Though Tom is neither terribly attractive nor particularly exciting, he does provide the youth and the admiration that Julia desires and she quickly and lustily falls into crush with him. She enjoys the sex and the hint of scandal—she and her husband Michael have a “modern” marriage, an arrangement we are led to believe he has taken more advantage of than she has. She also enjoys the rejuvenating effect it has on her acting and throws herself wholeheartedly back into the play.

Of course, a young boy is no wrinkle cream and soon she begins to feel the age difference, especially during a summer vacation when Tom and Julia’s son (Thomas Sturridge) spend their nights together scoping out the local young girls.

And soon it becomes clear that Tom isn’t just romancing Julia when he begins angling for her help to get pretty young actress Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch) a part in her new play. Julia—a swirl of hurt feelings and middle-life-crisis fears about her fading beauty—slowly begins to form a plan to get back both her young lover and his girlfriend for the distress they’ve caused her.

Or maybe to just get them back for fun—we get the sense that even Julia can’t tell if she’s actually hurt or just bored and looking to make trouble.

Being Julia shares a lot in terms of plot and general tone with All about Eve, right down to the aging actress’ down-to-earth assistant. But this movie lacks the sharpness and clever writing that make that movie such a timeless, ageless classic. Instead, Being Julia is a brainy soap opera, a movie with artsy pretensions that plays all its emotions and themes with a shout-it-to-the-back-of-the-house volume. And nobody has better lungs than Bening.

In addition to allowing her this opportunity to vamp, Being Julia also makes a point of showing Bening’s age. Sags, wrinkles and frazzledness—it’s all accentuated by the 1930 makeup that cakes and coats and settles in all the worst places. Only at the very end, when Julia sadly accepts who she is do we see a woman looks at all comfortable in her own skin at her actual age.

- Amy Diaz 

 
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