Review by Ed Nguyen
Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Michael Gambon, Shaun Evans, Bruce Greenwood,
Miriam Margoyles, Juliet Stevenson, Lucy Punch, Tom Sturridg
Director: Istvan Szabo
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: (English close captioning)
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Sony Pictures
Features: Cast and director commentary, The Making of Being Julia, "Behind the Scenes" of Being Julia, deleted scenes, previews
Length: 104 minutes
Release Date: March 22, 2005
only reality is the theater. Anything
else - the outside world, what civilians call the real world - is nothing but
this time and age, few Hollywood actresses age gracefully.
Far too many attempt to cling to the desirable image of their fading
youth to maintain their box office marketability and appeal.
Furthermore, the relative superficiality of the vast majority of
mainstream female roles in Hollywood tends to propagate the image of women in
films as merely ornamental love interests.
With such a prohibitive shadow cast over the available options, it is no
wonder that truly memorable roles for women in mainstream Hollywood are so
this sense, Being Julia (2004) is an
ideal film for the maturing but still talented actress.
Its central character, Julia Lambert, is a gifted yet aging stage
actress, a diva who sees the inevitable dimming of her glorious time in the
spotlight and endeavors to maintain her position in center stage.
Having become increasingly bored with the theater and sensing a somewhat
perfunctory quality to her acting of late, Julia desires fresh excitement and
innovation, perhaps as a means of rekindling the fire and passion for her chosen
on the novel "Theatre" by W. Somerset Maugham, stars Annette Bening as
the conflicted actress, and in many ways, Bening thoroughly inhabits the role.
Cast opposite Jeremy Irons as her devoted husband and business manager,
Bening infuses Julia with a quality of cynical world-weariness threatening to
consume the still-youthful heart that beats within her.
The remedy for her pensive soul-searching, as it were, presents itself in
the form of pious devotion from a young admirer, Tom (Shaun Evans).
Brought to the theater by Julia's husband to learn the tricks of the
trade, the young American elicits forth an outpouring of free-spirited emotions
in Julia, who succumbs to the exotic novelty of Tom's genuflections and even
commences a discreet affair with the young lad.
feeling alive and reinvigorated, Julia begins to embrace her career with a
renewed passion, although it is an emotional state destined to be short-lived.
As youth appeals to youth, so is Tom's glance gradually affected towards
the pretty visage of one Avice Crichton, a stunning and aspiring young actress. Such are the ephemeral qualities of fickle youth.
increasingly shunned, Julia reaches a crisis point in her career.
With respect to Tom, she loves him scornfully and later scorns him with a
bitter humor. Unhappy as ever and wallowing in the foibles of her personal
character, Julia begins to realize that her true joy is the stage and nothing
more. Neither Tom nor her husband
may ultimately detract from this joy, and while Julia has a few good
performances left in her, she means to intertwine reality and performance
together upon the stage into the bravura performance of the limelight of her
Bening, as Julia, brightens every scene she is in. She is at once bubbly and troubled, her outwardly cheerful
demeanor disguising a conflicted inwardly eye.
Hers is a multi-faceted performance worthy of some of the great divas of
Hollywood past. Indeed, Being
Julia focuses upon the inevitability of middle-age status in actresses, a
theme that has been broached before in such films as John Cassavetes's Opening
Night with Gena Rowlands or most memorably in Joseph Mankiewicz's All
About Eve with the incomparable Bette Davis.
Bening acquits herself quite admirably in such heightened company, the
quality of her performance being reflected in her selection by the National
Board of Review as Best Actress.
supporting cast is fairly decent, too, although the film belongs to Bening.
Jeremy Irons, as the somewhat aloof husband, has established a solid
niche for himself in portraying prim and proper English gentlemen.
However, he has a devilish twinkle in his eyes, and in Being
Julia, betrays a hidden, if as yet untapped, affinity for sly British humor.
Michael Gambon, as the ghost of Julia's mentor, pops up intermittently to
whisper words of advice into the disenchanted diva's ear; he is really a figment
of her imagination but serves the role of revealing her innermost thoughts and
insecurities to us, the audience. Bruce
Greenwood, a favorite of Canadian director Atom Egoyan, is one of the industry's
underrated actors and appears here as Julia's best friend, Lord Charles.
Though they are affectionately fond of one another, Lord Charles has a
secret that prevents him from consummating their platonic relationship.
Punch occupies the somewhat thankless role of Avice Crichton, an ambitious young
actress whose physical allure, rather than any genuine acting talent, allows her
to ascend to the rank of co-star opposite Julia in her latest theatrical play.
Punch's performance, unduly mediocre (if hysterically so), is drawn in
the broad strokes of so vivid a pantomime of acting that one struggles to find
merit in it. Nevertheless, Punch's
Avice is such a spirited ingénue that we almost feel sorry for the surely
inevitable destruction and comeuppance that awaits her on opening night,
courtesy of Julia's deliciously diabolical schemings.
Julia is set
in England during the final carefree years before the second World War. Although centering upon the world of the theater, it is not
truly a backstage drama but is perhaps more accurately described as a romantic
comedy or a light drama about one character's search for inner contentment.
Being Julia was directed by
Hungarian-born Istvan Szabo, whose name may be unfamiliar with most western
audiences but who has had a prestigious career within the theatrical world.
Being Julia is Annette Bening's film
from beginning to end. It offers
that rare dream role for more mature actresses, one in which they may display
the full faculty of their dramatic skills.
More satisfyingly, it also provides the wickedly vicarious thrill of
subduing the upstart young talent who might wish to supplant the older
generation. And while that may
inevitably be the case regardless, at least in the conclusion of Being
Julia, the young generation will have to wait another day until, older and
wiser by the accumulation of worldly experience, they are more deserving of
assuming their place in the spotlight.
was acting. If I truly felt all the emotions I was representing, I'd be a
shown in an anamorphic widescreen format. This
being a recent film, the print is in pristine condition and has been mastered in
high definition for greater picture clarity.
The transfer rate averages between 6-7 Mbps. Skin tones are realistic, and the colors are soft and warm in
a nostalgic 1930's style. The
detail levels are clear and sharp. Overall,
this is a solid effort.
English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack for Being
Julia is solid if dialogue-driven. Spatial
definition is subtle, given the nature of the film, but is otherwise pleasant.
Subtitles are not available, although English close captioning are an
option on capable television sets.
all the boys I've known and I've known some,
Until I first met you I was lonesome,
And when you came in sight, dear, my heart grew light,
And this old world seemed new to me.
- "Bei Mir Bist du Schon," The Andrews Sisters
bonus features on this disc include a couple of featurettes, a commentary track,
and several deleted scenes. The
first featurette, The Making of Being
Julia (6 min.), is fairly self-explanatory. Scenes from the movie are shown during rehearsal or actual
filming. These candid clips are
offered in a montage without narration and are backed by the film's gently
romantic music. The second
featurette, "Behind the Scenes" of Being
Julia (9 min.), is a candid look at the premise of the film, with words from
Annette Bening and other members of the cast.
The actors also describe their own characters and their motivations in Being
speaking, the most interesting bonus feature on this disc is the commentary
track, which unites stars Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons with the film's
director Istvan Szabo. Generally,
the tone is somewhat self-congratulatory, with the actors expressing their
appreciation for their director and the crew and vice versa.
The commentary feels safe if slight and not particularly insightful, and
there are stretches during which no commentary is heard at all.
are also deleted scenes (5 min.) from the film. Presented in a continuous stream, the excised scenes are
comprised of a morning scene between Julia and her maid and a related café
scene in which Julia tries to pick up a random stranger, a brief rehearsal scene
for Julia, and finally a scene in a darkened theater between Julia and her
out the extras are previews for Pedro Almodovar's Bad Education, Zhang Yimou's mesmerizing House of Flying Daggers, Al Pacino in The Merchant of Venice, and Charlize Theron in Head in the Clouds.