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Rental Unit: "Being Julia"

Her character, long at the top of the London stage, is looking fearfully into the twilight of her career. She copes by taking a young habitué as her lover (Shaun Evans), a cliché that always ends badly for the woman, one character warns, and it does. The gallant young lad dumps her for a comely aspirant (Lucy Punch), whom Julia promptly takes under her wing with the kind of swift composure Machiavelli would have admired. The queen is not to be dethroned without a fight.

Consumed with the stage, its internecine squabbles and flights of ego, "Being Julia" is reminiscent of "All About Eve," and its lead is a fine portrait of a woman scorned and her ensuing wrath. But the source material, an appealing story by W. Somerset Maugham, is anodyne in comparison. It also ends up mishandling a fine pool of talent, including Jeremy Irons (Julia's willing cuckold) resigned mostly to shuffling papers and buttering toast.

Many of the characters in "Being Julia" betray a similar lack of gusto. Doubtless Bening lost her Oscar in part because it was outmatched in sympathy. But just as Julia suffers under an upstart supporting cast, her real-world counterpart may have been done in by a lackluster one. — Wayne Melton

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