Being Julia (István Szabó, 2004) "My, this is getting complicated!" says Julia Lambert (Annette Bening) ad-libbing from the stage. She should know; she lives for drama and theater. But, it isn't enough. Weeks into a production set up by her impresario husband Michael (Jeremy Irons) she is having a crisis of...something. She's been playing the same part for what seems like ages. She's bored, yet exhausted and desperately needs a holiday.
But a diva can never take a holiday from drama, or turn away from being the center of attention, and once the run of the play has been shortened she can turn her attention to other things. Like an affair with a much younger American (Shaun Evans) besotted with her. He shows up, the son of another theater investor and Michael, hoping for some input of the cash variety, encourages Julia to give him some attention. Initially cool to the young man, Julia begins a passionate fling with the lad, falling deeply, passionately in love with him. Anyway, it plays like love. It's not like this hasn't happened before, as her deep friendship with Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood) attests. But, what's real for Julia has a tendency to blur between reality and the fantasy of the stage, something the spirit of her acting mentor Jimmy Langton (Michael Gambon) constantly pops in to remind her. Then, just when things are going so well, her young Romeo takes up with a beginning actress (Lucy Punch) who wants to use his influence with Julia to get her a part in Julia's new play, written for her by a boozy playwright (the late, great Maury Chaykin). Said actress is also cosying up to Michael (not that that really matters). Whatever is Julia to do?
Being Julia sounds like a "ladies'" picture, perfect for the LOL's attending their matinees after luncheon, but, written by Somerset Maugham (adapted here by Ron Harwood) it has more in common with a caper movie—we're constantly getting Julia's inner thoughts, as she is habitually throwing them out loud enough for the balcony to hear. But, a great actress never reveals too many secrets—just enough to make her fascinating for her audience. So, the final "heist" sequence has all the satisfaction of being a surprise and deliciously cathartic.
And it's fun to see Bening have fun with it in a performance in its high manner almost camp, were it not for the moments of reasonableness, which seem natural until you realize Julia's "acting." And Bening dives in, running the gamut from barely tolerant basilisk stare to "cry-me-a-river" deep diving. Sure, she was nominated for an Oscar for this—who wouldn't be as it has the potential of being a one-woman show—but Bening brings such a savage nature to this creation, a moth who lives best in the glare of her own spotlight, that one wonders how the Academy escaped giving her this one.* It is enjoyable, marred only by too many song interludes that provide period commentary that is completely unnecessary.
* Hilary Swank won that year for Million Dollar Baby. Bening should meet Eastwood.