Being Julia

Being Julia, based on the 1937 novel Theater by W. Somerset Maugham, is the type of movie that tries really hard to be like, and people want to like it, but in the end is only so-so. It looks marvelous, and has acclaimed director Istvan Szabo (Taking Sides, Sunshine) and adapter Ronald Harwood (The Statement, The Pianist) behind the camera, and Annette Benning (Open Range, American Beauty), Jeremy Irons (The Time Machine, And Now...Ladies and Gentleman), and Michael Gambon (Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) in front. The sheer number of international films awards that these five people have either won or been nominated for is impressive (Harwood and Irons won Oscars, while Benning has been nominated for one).

Aside from a strong scene near the end where Benning's Julia Lambert verbally reduces another person to shreds, Being Julia meanders along, not really sure what type of film it wants to be. One can attribute some of the loss of direction to Szabo's take on Lambert's own mid-life crisis, but the rest is the fault of the story. Lambert is a renowned stage actress, who sells out shows with her hefty talent. She is coming to a point where she just wants a change. She doesn't know what exactly she wants, all she knows is that she is tiring of her life. The answer comes in the form of a young American admirer, Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans). He quickly seduces her, and the two begin a not-so-torrid affair behind the back of her husband Michael Gosselyn (Irons).

Her acting improves because of this new 'inspiration' she has, and everybody can see it. When she and her husband go on vacation, she conspires to bring Tom along as company for her son, but gets jealous when Tom turns his attentions to Avice Crichton (Judy Punch, Ella Enchanted, Greenfingers). Lambert eventually tires of Tom, but still harbors affectionate feelings towards him, and he tries to use her to get an audition for Avice. Being Julia turns into a mind game between most of the principal actors. They are all scheming to get exactly what they want, trying to stab each other in the back.

But it all goes back to Lambert. After playing make believe for so long, she is not sure who she is. She can be strong and forceful one minute with Michael, but then turns into a giggling little girl when Tom is around. Gambon plays Jimmy Langton, a dead friend who acts more like a conscience, remarking to her about her actions. She is stagnant, and trying to move forward. She spends her time between Michael, who is financially savvy, Tom, who brings out the girl in her, and Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood, I, Robot, Hollywood Homicide), who refrains from getting too committed. Lambert, and Benning for that matter, is a commanding presence on stage. And Szabo does bring out her turmoil, but too much of Being Julia feels like filler. Evans is far too naive (more than his character demands) and looks like a cardboard cutout next to Benning, who infuses a sense of life into her role. It's good, but not enough.

Mongoose Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 45 minutes, Rated R for some sexuality.

Back to Movies