Bening is at times vain, giddy, haughty, loving, hilarious, neurotic, and sexually supercharged. She is an actress playing an actress who never stops acting, especially in her personal life. Benings Julia usually triumphs, but she does occasionally falter onstage, and is, depending on her moods, both convincing and obvious in her offstage manipulations. Why she is like she is a completely different matter. The movie never quite gets around to explaining Julias behavior. Theres no psychological resolution, but maybe there doesnt have to be. Perhaps she is what she is because thats the way she is. Theres nothing wrong with sitting back and enjoying what director Istvan Szabo and screenwriter Ronald Harwood have concocted: a delightfully glamorous and wonderfully witty backstage world.
At the start of the film, Julia, a diva who knows how to drape a mink over her shoulders with just the right note of insouciance, claims exhaustion. She asks her producer husband (Jeremy Irons) to stop the play in which she is currently starring. The request seems reasonable enough, but the reaction of everyone around her offers clues that Julias momentary whim falls into the heard it all before category. It certainly hints at her capricious temperament. Irons character feigns indulgence, but being very business-minded, he offers her a deal. He agrees to end the show, but not immediately. He believes, or knows, that she will change her mind. Julias devoted dresser and maid, played with entertaining good humor by Juliet Stevenson, has definitely heard it all before. In fact, she can mouth along to what Julia says as she complains about middle age, her lot in life, the weather, the audience, almost anything and everything. The curtain has come down on Act 1, and I have no idea what happens in Act 2.
One very refreshing aspect of the character, especially the way Bening plays her, is that Julias not completely self-absorbed. Shes a diva with an understanding that artifice isnt everything. She can be sweet and warm and charming, and you can tell its not an act. She revels in the company of her theater friends and is honestly concerned about the emotional needs of her quite prescient teenage son (Thomas Sturridge). Julia is just a little less developed as a person than she is as a performer. The movie uses the conceit of her now-dead first, and much beloved, acting teacher (Michael Gambon) offering her advice on everything, sort of a whimsical angel-devil on her shoulder.
Much of the film revolves around Julias affair with a young American accountant who adores her acting and then adores her body. Were soon in All About Eve territory. Tom is played by Shaun Evans, who we first see as cute and blond, but latter as cute and bland. Ah, callow youth. Evans acts the part with just the right understanding of his characters place in the scheme of things. Julias open marriage allows her to cavort, and she is thrilled by the opportunity, and loves giving gifts. Tom is a puppy, nude and lusty, and is filled with eager advice for Julia. He tells her she could be in pictures, to which Julia responds, Real actresses dont make pictures, an in-joke that Bening delivers with just the right note. But when Tom starts pushing the career of a willowy ingenue, Julias claws come out. Boy, do they ever. Tom and the ingenue havent got a chance.
Its great watching the London diva swallow what Tom has to offer, but you know shes smart enough to retain a touch of wariness. You love it when Julia giggles as those around her comment on her sexy sparkle. And you love it when she gets annoyed at Tom and decides she has to turn the tables.
Its clear that Julia believes that Tom might be an accessory, sort of like the hats she wears. But she certainly knows how to get into the swing of things. As for her husband, well, I got the impression that it was he who opened the doors for the open marriage. Julia also has a dalliance with a chap named Charles (Bruce Greenwood), who ends up revealing something about himself that actually doesnt surprise her. And hubby isnt beyond the gentle shag or two. Theirs might be a marriage devoid of romance, but theres still a lot of love left in it. And it sure does make for great dialogue. Listen for exchanges such as Julia complaining Im a bitch. Awful through and through. Nevertheless . Irons begins in response. And as the producer in the relationship, hes the only person on the planet who can tell her when shes giving a bad performance.
Being Julia is beautifully photographed by Laos Koltai. The costumes and production values are top-notch. Theres not a dark view or bad outfit in the movie. This is a comedy, after all. As noted, the acting from everyone is sublime. Also enjoy appearances by Rita Tushingham, Rosemary Harris, Lucy Punch, Miriam Margolyes, Sheila McCarthy, Leigh Lawson, and Maury Chaykin, he himself a product of the University of Buffalo and our towns avant-garde theater scene in the late 60s and early 70s.
Bening, of course, delivers nothing less than a tour de force. By Michael Calleri ALT Movie Editor
Annette Bening certainly knows how to make love to the camera.
In Being Julia, the movie that was the opening night selection at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Bening not only makes love to the camera, she owns it, lock, stock, and barrel. Her performance has Oscar nomination dripping all over it.