Being Julia (2004) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Julia is a famous actress on the London stage in the late 1930s. She is losing her passion for performing the roles she has made famous, and she is getting too old for those roles, so she is beginning to see her current existence as the end of Act One of her life, and is wondering what will happen in Act Two.

It doesn't take long for her world to change. Act Two of her life is also Act Two of the film. She falls in love with an adoring American half her age, and the rejuvenation of her sex drive stirs her passion for work as well. She abandons her plans for a vacation, and plans to work through the summer. Unfortunately, her American's infatuation turns out to be short-lived, and Julia is doubly humiliated when the young man not only dumps her, but dumps her for the beautiful young actress who seems to be the Julia of the future. She tries to turn to an old platonic friend for passion, but finds out he is gay. She then tries to turn to her aging husband, and finds that he, too, is infatuated with the up-and-coming young actress.

The final act is basically Julia's carefully orchestrated revenge. This act is the film's weakness. The revenge is limp and tepid. The result? No climax. No catharsis. The film ends up a beautiful piece of foreplay, with no actual lovemaking.

Despite the unrealized potential of the main plot, there are lots of delicious little things going on, all performed by great actors and photographed lovingly. The husband and wife (Jeremy Irons and Annette Bening) are a magnificent couple past their prime. The mother and son (Anne Bening and young Tom Sturridge) relationship is the best part of the film: the gentle and soft-spoken son is the only one who always dares to tell his mother the truth - about himself and about herself as well. Julia can also get the truth from her loyal dresser (Juliet Stevenson) if she needs to hear it. The relationship between Julia and the gay aristocrat (Bruce Greenwood) is also quite charming, as is the imaginary relationship between Julia and her dead mentor (Michael Gambon). A lot of the charm in those relationships derives from the fact that the six characters involved are all real people - even the dead guy-  and are all essentially good people. We can recognize them, we like them, and we root for them. The parts of the film that don't work as well revolve around the dramatic conflict, and involve the characters who are not so nice. Of course, the villains are not really that bad, and nothing so bad really happens to them, which is appropriate, but ... well, really boring as hell.

Annette Bening has always been an unusual actress. She's one of those whose appearance doesn't really match her aura. She is obviously beautiful, and elegant, and may have the most perfect smile in history, but we get the feeling that underneath her classic looks she is too smart and calculating for her own good, and that we should not trust her, no matter how much warmth her smile may radiate. She's not sweet enough and she's too aloof to play the "girl we love" Meg Ryan roles, but she's too damned likeable and vulnerable to play the bitchy Joan Collins roles. This leaves her typecast as the woman who seems benign until betrayed, then turns Machiavellian and insidious. As it turns out, that's exactly what she was called upon to do here. Bening is magnificent, because the role not only makes use of her greatest strengths, but does so virtually in the context of her own life story. She, like the character, is a beautiful woman getting too old to play the beautiful seductresses. Some aging actresses can drop the seductress roles, change gears and start playing ugly old crones and drunks, ala Anne Bancroft. Neither Bening nor the fictional Julia is that kind of actress. In another parallel, Bening, like Julia, is married to a man once considered one of the handsomest in the world, but now obviously much older than herself. Given a chance to act out her own life in many ways, Bening delivered a charismatic and showy performance that let her showcase what she does best. Julia's son points out in the script that his mother is always acting, onstage and off, so it's a really juicy role, and it got Bening a deserved Oscar nomination.

One other thing to mention. Completely irrelevant to the plot development, but of great interest to me, was the curious scene where a street busker did an impersonation of Neville Chamberlain, the famous "appeasement" minister. Ya know, you really don't see a lot of Neville Chamberlain impersonations among today's crowd of mimics, and all's the pity for that.

That's about all you have here. Strong date film material that the woman probably will like more than the man. (IMDb scores: 7.2 males, 7.8 females). Great costumes, elegant sets, plenty of interesting things going on, and a brilliant cast in a film which seems like a fast flyweight boxer who dazzles with his footwork but just doesn't know how to deliver the K.O.

Shakespeare in Love without the Shakespeare.

Or the Love.



  • Commentary by director István Szabó, actors Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons
  • Making of featurette
  • Behind the scenes featurette
  • Deleted scenes
  • 16x9 widescreen anamorphic transfer



Shaun Evans shows his bum in a sex scene with Annette Bening.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: two and a half   stars. James Berardinelli 2.5/4, Roger Ebert 2.5/4

  • Annette Bening was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. She lost to Hilary Swank for the second time in her career.

  • British consensus out of four stars: two and a half. Complete consensus. Basically the same score across the board. Mail 6/10, Telegraph 7/10, Independent 6/10, Guardian 6/10, Times 6/10, Sun 6/10, Express 6/10, BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

  • Box Office Mojo. It never reached more than 328 theaters, and grossed a paltry $7.6 million. I suppose that probably hurt Bening's Oscar chances, since far more people saw Hilary Swank's role.
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C+. The script is mediocre, but it is filmed lovingly and performed by an outstanding cast. The film was appreciated by many people, but the box office was uninspiring, and critics were consistently lukewarm, except for the praise they heaped upon the performances.

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