“Being Julia” is really only notable as a film because it is the movie which garnered Annette Bening an Oscar nominee to once again pit her against Hilary Swank in the category of Best Actress in something of a rematch of the 1999 Academy Awards when Swank won the Oscar for her performance in “Boys Don’t Cry”. Once again Bening was nominated against Swank and once again Swank won, this time for “Million Dollar Baby”. This time Bening was nominated, I think, as much for her performance as for the fact that Bening was playing her own age. As an actress this seems to be fairly rare in a lead performance. Julia Lambert (Bening) is an aging star of the theatre in 1930’s London. She is concerned that she is starting to look old because she is certainly feeling it. She is tired, ready for a vacation, but a star can’t just shut down a show and take a vacation. Her husband and theatre manager Michael (Jeremy Irons) says that he will try to shut down the show if possible, but also introduces her to a young American named Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans).
Julia and Tom have an affair and it is like Julia is coming to life again. She has more passion in her acting and feels no need of a vacation. For this movie to have any sort of conflict, of course, things do not go smoothly and Julia’s reactions are of course that of an actress. I think this is part of the joy of Bening’s performance and part of the reason she picked up the nomination. She delightfully and perfectly overacts as Julia Lambert. I’m not sure that I buy the climax scene near the end of the picture, but Bening is so perfect in just barely overplaying the role that the humor in the situation comes clear and out into the open.
As the movie progressed I was more and more impressed with Annette Bening. I’ve always liked her as an actress, but this was just delightful. Hilary Swank still deserved the Academy Award over Bening for this role, but Bening was just charming and devious as Julia. The funny thing, though, is that I find myself talking more about Bening and her performance than I am about the movie. There’s a reason for that. As a movie, as a film telling a story it is completely ordinary and if not for Bening this movie would be forgotten even quicker than I suspect it already will be.
The other bit of performance of note is Michael Gambon. Gambon, in a role which he also seems to overact just a little bit (but again, in a perfectly delightful way), is wonderful here. Exactly why his character is in the movie should come clear deeper into the movie, but I looked forward to Gambon as much as Bening.
The bottom line is that the movie itself is not very impressing, but Bening and Gambon are worth watching the movie for. After a while the plot, which is rather silly, faded to the background with the star, Annette Bening standing front and center. I think that was the point here and it worked.
Grade: B (B for Bening).