Friday, 26 March 2010

Performances of the Decade (Female)

It is a rare and beautiful thing when a role seems created for one actor alone. That combination of artist and subject when done right is scintillating and is a constant joy to watch. The decade has been filled with many actors performing in roles that they seemed meant to play and few were more satisfying than this treasure.
# 2 Annette Bening in Being Julia (2004)
Being Julia - adapted from Somerset Maugham’s “Theatre” – exists as one whimsical moment after another. In a favourite scene of mine the ever dependable Miriam Margolyes asks our eponymous heroine “Do you mean that, or are you acting? I’m never sure if you’re acting.” It’s a significant moment; not only because of Annette’s brilliant response but because of Dolly’s incidental but accurate supposition. Annette is not the first woman to play an actress, nor is she the only one to play it brilliantly. It’s a situation where Julia is always on the offensive. How do you play character that never seems to settle and exists – at least ostensibly – in her upper register throughout?
Observe Annette in her first scene – not the one that rolls during the credits, the one after. She bursts into hers husband’s office for a monologue. “I’m tired, I’m utterly exhausted! I need a holiday.” Julia isn’t on stage anymore, but don’t tell that to Annette. She’s still very much ON. It’s not until she has accomplished her wish – Geoffrey’s acquiescence – that she really does lose her character and settle down to her real self, or at least what she hopes for us to perceive it to be. The thing is we notice in passing that Annette is giving a good performance but I’m never sure if we realise just how much of a double edged sword Julia Lambert is. Yes, the role exists in that tone where it’s easy to catch the audience, but on paper – delightful as it is – Julia exists not as a person, but as a character (albeit a marvellous one). Annette is forced to do twice the work.
It’s obviously a showcase for a woman her age; she makes those memories with Micahel Gambon work as well as she gets fed line after quotable line. Sometimes she seems to exist doing monologue after monologue as she tears through the scenes. We watch her come alive as she experiences the rebirth with Tom, but she doesn’t make it too serious because this is not a serious film. As the relationship heads downwards we are just as thrilled watching her at her low points. It’s one of the traits of an Annette performance isn’t it? She’s so willing to be a masochist – always willing to take her character through the unseemly at the expense of pride. The thing is we constantly get the feeling that she still is playing a part. It’s not that Annette is not acting sincerely, but she’s playing a woman with little sincerity…or is she?
We have to look closely for the moments when she’s caught unawares. For example, when Charles tells her he’s gay. That nervous laugh and then that slight twist of the head are unlike the Julia we’ve seen before. There is a natural easiness that is not forced. Still, if anyone brings out the easiness in Julia, it’s Roger – her son, played excellently by Tom Sturridge. In fact, Roger should be credited with the epiphany that changes the course of the film. As he tells her how unrealistic she is, the look of surprise on her face – authentic for once – is startling and unaffected. It’s as if at that moment I see the real Julia coming forth, more subtle than her histrionics imply. It leads of course to that delicious one woman show against that little “tart” Avis Creighton which will definitely be high on a list of scenes of the decade. It is unforgettable, no doubt. But that’s assured; we know Annette is capable of that. It’s the moments after when she laughs exuberantly with her assistant or when Geoffrey jovially calls her a monster. The delicious response of hers? “That’s how you love me!” And isn’t she correct? That is how we love her.
Annette thrives as Julia. It is a tour-de-force in my eyes. But what do you think? How does this rank on the continuum of brilliant Annette performances? Worthy of a decade end citation?


Luke said...

Oh my GOD! Love it. :)
This is one of the greatest performances - of all time. Seriously. All I've got to say is...

B... E... N!

Simon said...

Annette Bening is the most awesome thing to ever happen ever. EVER!

joe burns said...

I hated the film, but Annette was great in it! I would say a win might have been a little too much, but the nomination was well deserved. She would have been a better winner then Swank.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

joe i can't agree with you on thast, i love the film.

simon you don't know how much i love your comment.

luke B E N...t o m. she has a way with words.