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Everyone Laughs At The Older Woman

December 4th, 2010 · No Comments

This month’s theme was hatched after someone with better taste than me recommended that I add the 2005 romantic drama Shopgirl to my queue. Looking for films with similar themes, “Department Store”, “Medication” and “Love Triangle” were all considered and rejected before I settled on “May December Romance”. So in the month of December, I’ll take a look at love separated by much more than just six months on the calendar.

Being Julia (2004)
Directed by István Szabó
Screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on the novella Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham
Produced by Robert Lantos
105 minutes

There’s an ingeniously wicked story about endurance and revenge wrapped inside the extravagant packaging of Being Julia, which boasts one of our Iron Chefs of acting — Annette Bening — slicing and sautéing her way to her much deserved third Oscar nomination. The project originated with W. Somerset Maugham’s 1947 novella Theatre and British producer Mark Milln, who acquired the screen rights and approached Ronald Harwood to write the adaptation. Harwood was not only familiar with the story, but had already considered adapting it into a film.The screenwriter sent his first draft to producer Robert Lantos of Toronto based Serendipity Point Films. Intending to provide Lantos with a writing sample for an open assignment, Harwood not only landed that gig (director Norman Jewison’s final film The Statement) but sold Being Julia as well.

Lantos shared the script with István Szabó, the Hungarian director whom the producer had worked with on the 1999 historical drama Sunshine. Roughly $18 million in financing was secured from investors in the U.S., the U.K., Canada and Hungary and a 54-day shooting schedule commenced in June 2003; the theatre was found in Kecskemet, south of Budapest, where most of the interiors were filmed. Distributed in the U.S. by Sony Pictures Classics, Being Julia has a bit of that artificial, retirement community splendor that practically every Oscar baiting movie from Miramax Films featured in the same period, but once the lavish production design by Luciana Arrighi is filed away, a fanciful and sophisticated comedy about the art of deception takes off. Annette Bening’s comedic gifts are expertly used here and the supporting roles are wound with equal precision.

With the wisdom of her mentor Jimmie Langton (Michael Gambon) in her head, diva of the London stage circa 1938 Julia Lambert (Annette Bening) thrills the audience of her latest play. Feeling exhausted, she musters the energy to waylay her husband, well-intentioned theater producer Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons) into closing the show so she can let herself go over a holiday, eating potatoes and drinking beer. Julia’s vanity makes her oblivious to how this might impact her loyal assistant Evie (Juliet Stevenson) or devoted investor Dolly de Vries (Miriam Marygolyes). She begrudges her husband by accompanying him to lunch with a young American, the son of a friend of a friend looking to get into the accounting side of the theater business. To her amusement, the penniless Tom Fennel (Shaun Evans) exhibits a wanton lust for the actress despite the 20 years separating their ages.

When Julia’s friend Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood) deflects her romantic overtures, the lonely diva agrees to meet Tom for tea at his flat. With Jimmie in her ear reminding her what a good fling might do for her stagecraft, Julia falls in love with Tom. Rejuvenated, she changes her mind about closing the play and briefly recaptures her shine onstage. The expensive gifts she showers on Tom push him away until he crushes Julia by admitting he’s fallen in love with another woman, a bland but beautiful young actress named Avice Crichton (Lucy Punch). Under the impression she’s still smitten, Tom manipulates Julia into awarding Avice an audition for her new play. During rehearsals, the cunning diva surprises everyone with her generosity toward the ingenue, but on opening night, reminds London who is truly the greatest actress in town with a different kind of performance.

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 1,962 users: 71% for Being Julia

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 65 for Being Julia

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Tags: Based on novel · Dreams and visions · Master and pupil · Midlife crisis · Mother/son relationship · Museums and galleries · Road trip · Unconventional romance

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