Combustible Celluloid
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With: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons, Bruce Greenwood, Miriam Margolyes, Juliet Stevenson, Maury Chaykin, Rosemary Harris, Michael Gambon
Written by: Ronald Harwood, based on the novel by W. Somerset Maugham
Directed by: István Szabó
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality
Language: English
Running Time: 105
Date: 09/03/2004

Being Julia (2004)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Stage Advice

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Annette Bening returns fully charged and ready to take onthe world as Julia Lambert, a famous and beloved 1930s-era London stageactress. She giggles giddily and snips with an upper crust British accent. Shecries restrained stage tears, followed by gut-roiling real ones. She speakssnappy lines as if they were written specifically for the shape of her mouth.This is the kind of role that Bette Davis (All About Eve) or Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce) savored in their day, and the kind that winsOscars. But it's a performance in search of a film. As directed by Istvan Szabo(Sunshine), the film sluggishlyand shapelessly meanders through its separate scenes, apparently unsure of whento cut and when to dissolve. Szabo and screenwriter Ronald Harwood (ThePianist) also introduce a silly and awkwardelement: the ghost of an acting teacher (Michael Gambon) who follows Juliaaround and criticizes her "performances." The plot centers around Juliastarting an affair with a much younger man, a selfish social climber (played bythe bland Shaun Evans), who breaks her heart. Julia then plots revenge on himthrough her rival, a younger, blonde actress (Lucy Punch). Jeremy Ironsprovides a sort of droll anchor as Julia's producer/director husband, and thetreasured Juliet Stevenson plays the Thelma Ritter role as the star's crankydresser who won't take any attitude. These two, along with Bening, give themovie a much-needed boost into enjoyable lightness.

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