1938. Julia Lambert and Michael Gosselyn are the royal couple of the London theater scene, Julia an actress and Michael a former actor who took over running the theater and its troupe upon the passing of their mentor, Jimmie Langton. Jimmie is still constantly with Julia in spirit as she navigates through life. Besides their work, Julia and Michael lead largely separate lives, they long ago having stopped a sexual relationship. Julia of late has been feeling disenchanted with her life, she not wanting to admit it's because she is approaching middle age. Her disenchantment manifests itself in wanting Michael to close their current production early so that she can recharge her juices, something he is reluctant to do if only for not wanting to let the theater sit empty. What Julia ends up doing instead is embarking on an affair with Tom Fennel, an adoring young American who is young enough to be her son. As Julia and Tom's relationship progresses, the more she falls in love with him and ...Written by
Tom tells Julia that Michael has given him a box for the opening of the new play. When we see Tom after Julia makes an obvious reference to him by saying, "B-E-N," he is seated not in a box but in the orchestra section, next to Julia's son and in front of Julia's male friend. See more »
Your only reality is the theater. Anything else, what civilians call the real world, is nothing but fantasy and I bloody well won't let you forget it.
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"Being Julia" is like a period version of "All About Eve," such that it's a cross between "Stage Beauty" for gender and naturalism on and off the stage issues and "Bright Young Things" for time period.
One problem, though, is that it's unclear how much sub-text is intentional or accidental, particularly to an American audience. Though the cast is a mixed Commonwealth crew, as indicated by wavering accents, are the men intentionally effete (other than a charismatic Michael Gambon as a remembered mentor) such that we're more surprised that the British upper classes replicated at all rather than that some play for the other team. Or is there a message about masculinity vs. femininity on stage vs. off.
Is it to be intentionally satirical that Annette Bening's younger rival is frequently referred to as "the pretty one", but, well, Lucy Punch is certainly not conventionally pretty. Let alone that the young man they are competing over, Shaun Evans, is a bland Ken doll with zero sex appeal.
I also assume it was W. Somerset Maugham's intention that the plays Bening's diva is starring in are lightweight Noel Coward imitations (accented by the use of a witty Coward song on the soundtrack) and that there's a character named "Roger" for some double entendre tittering.
Which all leads up to my assumption that it's intentional that Bening looks so much more beautiful and lively when she's wearing hardly any noticeable make-up, especially in the transcendent closing shot, much as Juliette Binoche in "Jet Lag (Décalage horaire)" looked startlingly beautiful when she stopped trying to look younger.
But all these weaknesses are forgotten as Bening and the film climax to the denouement, such that you can't help cheering her victory while humming the lovely soundtrack.
The costumes are also wonderful.
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