Being Julia

Don't miss Bening's performance.

I failed at acting because I thought all I had to do was act like myself. Decades of watching "Method" actors have shown me the complicated and unreachable conjunction between one's life experiences and those of the character. Annette Bening's Julia Lambert, in "Being Julia," is an early 20th-century London stage star, now 45 years old, who can act well enough but carries her lines into her personal life to such a degree that her son says, "You have a performance for everyone. I don't think you exist. Even the things you say are secondhand."

Listen to a ghost of Julia's past, her deceased acting teacher, Jimmy Langton (Michael Gambon), coach her to winning performances on stage and in bedroom (Julia is having an affair with a young man half her age). Jimmy tells her, "Your only reality is the theater," and about bedding the young man, "If that doesn't improve your performance, then nothing will." These lessons in dealing with the real and unreal worlds of acting and life could cost considerably more if you enrolled in Actor's Studio whereas these intriguing bits of advice come only at the price of admissions. Julia getting revenge by using her craft is the ultimate act of stage terrorism and a coda not to be missed this year in a film too much like "All About Eve" to be ignored.

The sub theme of mid-life crisis, wherein Julia and her husband, Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), struggle with the ephemeral vanities of looks and adulation, is as effectively done as in "The Incredibles," an animation success about a superhero family whose parents struggle with middle-aged big heads and butts. Julia is vulnerable to the young man, and Michael is vulnerable to the new young actress, the couple long ago forsaking their intimacy for the thrill of perfecting acting and directing.

And by the way, don't miss Bening's performance because she will be nominated for an Oscar. If Imelda Staunton's role as Vera Drake is not released until January, then Bening should take the honor in February 2005.

Bening's Julia recalls for me Sir John Gielgud's observation that "being another character is more interesting than being yourself."