Wednesday, November 17, 2004

The brilliance of being Bening

A diva’s story divinely acted

Posted By on Wed, Nov 17, 2004 at 12:00 AM

Lately, it seems there’s been a bumper crop of actors outshining the films they star in. Ray, Sideways and The Machinist all boast masterful performances in less than masterful vehicles. In each case, the leads were so good they elevated the film around them.

Add to this list the frothy and, ultimately, middlebrow period piece Being Julia. The movie boasts an intelligent and wonderfully vivacious performance by Annette Bening as Julia Lambert, a theatrical diva caught in a midlife crisis.

It’s easy to forget just how good an actress Bening can be. She seems to have relegated her career to one film per year, and the projects have been pretty hit or miss. For every American Beauty there’s been an Open Range.

This time, however, Bening has picked a role with Oscar written all over it.

Based on a novella by W. Somerset Maugham and handsomely directed by Istvan Szabs (Sunshine, Mephisto), Being Julia is a perfectly respectful bit of cinema that struggles against a poorly constructed script.

Set in 1930s London, in the rarefied world of professional theater, Julia Lambert is a self-involved actress who has reached the peak of her career. With nowhere to go but down, she phones in her performances on stage while saving the real drama for friends, family and lovers. Her producer-husband (the always charming Jeremy Irons) is far more concerned with her thespian chops than her extramarital dalliances. Accordingly, Julia traipses through life with a wry mixture of hysteria and boredom. Faking grandiose emotions when she feels ambivalent and offering casual indifference when distraught, Julia has made the entire world her stage.

When she meets a fresh-faced young fan named Tom Fennell (the stiff Shaun Evans in an underwritten role), she quickly and surprisingly falls in love. Suddenly, Julia’s passion for the stage returns as she rides an emotional roller coaster of giddy schoolgirl lust and self-doubting jealousy.

Predictably, selfish young Tom leaves her for an ambitious young ingenue who wants to take Julia’s place in bed and on stage.

Bening is terrific as she carefully portrays Julia’s sharp ache and simmering rage on discovering the betrayal. Her face becomes a flurry of impish smiles, wounded looks and tears beaten back by laughter. She’s a woman whose pride and beauty will not be defeated by age or heartbreak. It’s an impressive balancing act that never crosses the line into self-pity or self-indulgence.

Like the far superior All About Eve, Being Julia wants to be a witty comedy about backstage backstabbing. Unfortunately, screenwriter Ron Harwood can’t seem to corral the story. The script takes far too many awkward detours before finally arriving at Julia’s delightfully wicked revenge. Luckily, Bening is so luminously good that we revel in Julia’s triumph even if we don’t quite understand how we got there.

Showing at the Maple Art Theatre (4135 W. Maple Rd., Bloomfield Hills; 248-263-2111).

Jeff Meyers writes about film for MetroTimes. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

Tags:

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

Read the Digital Print Issue

March 3, 2021

View more issues

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2021 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation