With Being Julia, Annette Bening got aced out of the Best Actress statue for the second time in five years, both times finishing (presumably) second to Hilary Swank. At least this time, any perceived injustice is mitigated: the film and her performance are less worthy of the gold than American Beauty. Being Julia is at times a broad comedy, other times a light melodrama, but always an excellent showcase for an aging actress willing to admit that her ingenue days are over. Bening received well-deserved kudos for diving into the role, which is vanity-free, not to mention too close to home for many actresses her age. However, her performance is not as note-perfect as one would expect from an Oscar front-runner, though this may be a fault of the writing or of István Szabó's direction. It's not clear whether Julia Lambert is supposed to be a good actress or just a popular one, but in Bening's hands she wildly overacts and preens like a spoiled diva. That's in keeping with the film's comedic agenda, but neither choice seems entirely organic. It's the departures from this that earn Bening her accolades. Without that protective shell of sarcasm, Bening's moments of vulnerability wouldn't have such power and feel so true, which in turn legitimizes those choices. Among the supporting roles, Lucy Punch is funny as Julia's coquettish young rival, but Juliet Stevenson is criminally underused. Ronald Harwood's script is an inevitable comedown from his Oscar-winning screenplay for The Pianist, but it does make for light period comedy that's more than just Bening's movie.
by Derek Armstrong review