In general, I like costume dramas about as much as I like a sharp stick in the eye; I just can’t bother with the dry, lifeless dialogue, the “adult” themes, the fainting, the weeping, the predicable adultery, the powdered cleavage, and the scads and scads of insufferable characters speaking, usually, with some form of British accent. It’s all so tedious and will sucking, which is to say I didn’t have particularly high expectations for Being Julia, no matter how great Annette Bening was supposed to be.
Yet, I was delightfully surprised by this film. Yes, yes, Bening’s performance was beyond exceptional, but I was far more impressed with the script’s sense of humor, the storyline, and, ultimately, the way the plot unfolded, revealing that Being Julia was much more than a stage for middle-aged thespians to show off their acting talents; it was actually a witty crowd-pleaser, effortlessly transforming itself from overwrought melodrama to an amusing farce without missing a beat.
Based on the W. Somerset Maughamnovel Theater, and adapted by Ronald Harwood (The Pianist), Being Julia is set in 1930s London. Directed by Hungarian István Szabó, the film concerns itself with forty-something Julia (Annette Bening), a successful stage actress at the peak of her career, able to portray 29-year-olds to the glee of her adoring West End fans. Yet, Julia, every bit the Norma Desmond diva, has grown weary of not only her stardom, but her professional marriage, a “modern” coupling with her impresario husband, Michael (Jeremy Irons).
Enter wet-behind-the-ears American, Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans), who is star struck with Julia; flattered by the attention and boldness of a man half her age, Julia takes a quick liking to Tom, embarking on a torrid love affair that reinvigorates her enthusiasm for acting. Suddenly, the listless grand dame is as giddy as a schoolgirl, drinking beer and idling away her afternoons with Tom. Expectedly, however, the ardor that Julia and Tom share fades, after she learns of his real agenda, and about the ambitions of another actress, (Lucy Punch), with whom Tom is also sleeping. The once ebullient actress panics, devolves into tears, gnashes her teeth, and ultimately, exacts her revenge upon Tom.
Though I won’t reveal how the film concludes, the finale is show-stopping, the sort of ending that feels satisfying in the same way that Ocean’s 11 does — the pieces just come together. The ending is executed so flawlessly and with so much joy, that I half expected Annette Bening to appear afterwards with a large cigar in her mouth, musing to her audience with knowing wink, “I just love it when a plan comes together.”
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.
Being Julia / Dustin Rowles
Film | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()