Being Julia [2004]

Annette Bening's outstanding performance is the best reason to see Being Julia, a highly melodramatic adaptation of the 1937 novel Theatre by W. Somerset Maugham. With a prestigious pedigree (director Istvan Szabo and screenwriter Ronald Harwood share impressive theatrical backgrounds) and a stellar cast including Jeremy Irons, Bruce Greenwood, and Juliet Stevenson, the film's backstage and onstage theatrics take place in pre-World War II London, when the venerable actress Julia (Bening) fends off middle-age by romancing a stage-struck young American (Shaun Evans) in a calculated attempt to retain some youthful vitality while airing her own dirty laundry onstage in a glorious act of divine diva behavior. Treating life and theater as one big play in which she's the perpetual star, Julia's nothing if not a master thespian, and Bening's got all the chops to keep her in the spotlight. If the film isn't quite worthy of Bening's excellence, at least it gives her performance the showcase it deserves. -- Jeff Shannon

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