My current Top 5

My current Top 5

4/02/2010

Best Actress 2004: Annette Bening in "Being Julia"

To play a great diva of the theatre world is always a challenge and a reward for each actress. If she succeeds in the part, then critical praise and awards attention are guaranteed. But to succeed, she must be able to meet all the challenges of this part.
An actress has to be confident enough in her own talent to be able to fill both her own performance and the constant performances of her character with all the qualities that make a diva so unique. She must be able to be a complete bitch to everyone else in the movie but make the audience love her at the same time. She has to walk a thin line between being an eccentric diva and a hateful woman. She has to be larger-than-life but never go over-the-top. She must also know when to show a real character behind the grand exteriors. In a part like this, an actress must constantly act but avoid to appear unrealistic. And most of all, an actress has to have enough personality to be believable as this diva.

In the part of Julia Lambert, a great star of the London stage during the 30s, Annette Bening achieved all these demands wonderfully. Her eccentric, larger-than-life diva who is full of self-assurance but also very insecure is an unforgettable portrayal that is able to entertain and astonish the audience with its humor, wit and originality. Julia Lambert is not a rip-off of other famous divas like Margo Channing, instead Annette Bening created a character that is totally her own. She also succeeds in bringing the screenplay to a greater level since Julia is not that well written and brings together a lot of clichés but Annette is able to combine these well-known clichés with a lot of depth and creates a real, three-dimensional character.

Annette Bening almost bursts of confidence in her performance. She makes Julia a force of nature, a true diva of the theatre who knows who she is: a true star and a gifted actress. Julia has no doubt in her own talents and her own success but she slowly learns that life outside of the theatre is not going according to her own script. But when everything seems to slip away from her, she is confident and strong enough to fight back – and what else could she be using as her battlefield but her own territory, the stage of the theatre? She needs that stage to bring her personal life back into order.

Annette is a totally commanding presence on the screen and both she and Julia reduce everyone around her to mere props. But the gift of Annette is that she may take full spotlight with her performance but she allows others to shine, too, and is always able to create great chemistry with all her co-stars.

Annette Bening’s biggest success is how she is able to show so many sides of Julia. Her Julia on the stage talks and moves totally differently from the Julia off-stage but even the off-stage-Julia has more than one personality. There is the off-stage-Julia who is still acting and reading lines to get what she wants and there is the honest, the real Julia who sometimes becomes visible. It’s thrilling to watch Annette Bening turn Julia into a real tour-de-force and how she constantly plays with her intentions, motives and behaviors.

Annette is able to make Julia’s constant acting and awareness very natural and believable which is probably the biggest challenge of them all. It is clear that Julia is never letting her real personality become apparent and instead puts on an act for everyone but Annette presents this as a natural part of Julia’s character. When she is visiting her young lover at night and starts to cry one is never certain if she is acting or really honest. Only when she later breaks down in the quietness of her own room, it seems to become clear that this time, Julia really is herself. She constantly has to trick both the audience and the characters around her about her real intentions.

As said before, Annette Bening also has to be able to be really unpleasant to the characters around her but at the same time make the audience care about her and she also succeeds in this part. The most famous scene of the movie when Julia takes revenge on a young, upcoming actress on the stage during a premiere is certainly the highlight of Annette’s performance. One feels sorry for the young woman whose most important night of her life is turned into a personal fiasco but at the same time it’s impossible to not love Julia while she is doing it. Annette Bening’s smile can brighten up the whole screen and she is able to turn Julia into a character so crazy, eccentric, real and loveable that one finds oneself always on her side.

The only thing working against Annette is that she is in a movie that certainly adores her and gives her every opportunity to shine but is never able to catch up with her. Sometimes, Annette’s performance is too big for the movie because while she has to struggle with the eternal problems for every theatre diva – age, love and a new young rival – it is done in a rather simple way that can’t live up to Annette’s performance. Everything that happens to and around Julia is never as epic as Julia herself. Sometimes, Annette’s performance is too spectacular for its own good.

Still, Annette Bening turns Julia Lambert into one of the most extravagant, stylized, real and memorable divas ever and for this, she gets

10 comments:

joe burns said...

Wow, you really liked it! I thought she was great, but a win would have been a little too much. I hated the film, but Benning made it work.

Sage Slowdive said...

Wow...she did absolutly nothing for me.

Fritz said...

Really? Why?

Robert said...

I must see this movie!!! Though Bening is sort of half and half for me...I'm not sure how I feel about her yet.

Fritz said...

I agree that Bening is rather hit-or-miss a lot of time, but when she is great, then she is great!

joe burns said...

As I said, I liked her in this, but I prefer her in American Beauty. But I was disappointed by her in The Grifters.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

As the resident Annette lover (she is the Queen Mother :) I'm quite content with your writeup Fritz. You do these posts so fast I'm always way behind on reading. When I recapped this performance my decade in review I remembered noting how much of a double edged sword this was.

I like the film though, so no problems with that part of the performance. Good writeup, still.

Fritz said...

Thanks, Andrew!

Maybe I should slow down a bit...

joe burns said...

I love that Andrew loves Annette so much, and calls her the Queen Mother!

Anonymous said...

Andrew - I was a student along with Annette at the American Conservatory theater in San Francisco, actually, she was a year ahead of me - Bill Ball was responsible for discovering her and nurturing her talent. Bill was the founder of ACT. Annette could do Shakespeare like nobody’s business - I saw Streep when she graduated from Yale do Shrew in Central Park and Annette do Puck at ACT They were a match - nobody can touch them in Shakespeare. Here - for all Queens.

This I just wrote for Laurie Anderson but Annette would love it.

Our queen is a day laborer and we are the lords of her kingdom. Blessed be our lovely queen forever and ever, amen. Our queen is between our eyes and she calls herself a drifting vagabond whose wisdom is priceless, and that is why she gives it away for free. Not because she has to, but because she wants to. This is why they call her holy when she passes by in whispers. This is why we burst out joy wherever her sun touches our face. Our faces are shimmering jewels of wisdom gifted unto us by vagabonds and their nemesis, the swine who think they rule this place. Go ahead and touch, it is a diamond face, spinning nuclei with Buddha in the middle and another face, but that face is not human. Our queen is a lonely piper of tones in shades of love. She is a continent on a lonely planet singing with the universe, and the universe next door.

scott utley la ca usa arr