Movie Review #858: ‘Julia’ is way too political to call a Hollywood movie.

By Alexander Diminiano


Rated PG (contains profanity, violence)
117 minutes

The strongest highlight in “Julia” is a very strong one. This is the acting. Meryl Streep debuts here, and she steals her only scene in the movie. Then there’s other greats like Jason Robards, Hal Holbrook, and Maximilian Schell in supporting roles. And in the lead roles, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave.

Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave. That’s a terribly brave combination to cast in a 1970s movie, particularly if that movie is “Julia”, which is diesel fueled by left-wing politics. With certain exceptions, American films don’t really try and overtly sell us their political views. “Julia” is different. If it went any further left, it would seem a Michael Moore documentary. I don’t want to say that its topic of anti-fascism is a good nor a bad thing, but the movie’s rah-rah angle of the cause becomes more important than its story. Alvin Sargent’s screenplay for this 1977 film takes a look back at an anti-fascist operation during WWII, not as a period piece, but through a more political eye that promotes the operation as a Cold War theme.

“Julia” focuses on a frustrated woman named Lillian (Jane Fonda), who has transformed herself singlehandedly into a successful playwright. She’s now living in Paris and is desperate to meet up with her lifelong best friend Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), a resident of Vienna. They’re unable to see each other because of the extensive roles Julia has been taking as a political activist during World War II. She supports anti-fascism, mainly in that she wishes to put an end to persecution in Nazi Germany.

Julia does not treat Lillian like they’re lifelong friends. Acquaintances, maybe, though Julia’s stringent determination seems to give her a bit of enemy flare. Everything for Julia is strictly business. She sends Lillian on a highly illegal operation, which involves smuggling large amounts of money into Nazi Germany. The two finally rendezvous in a restaurant so that Julia can collect the smuggled funds. They don’t say “Hi, how are you?” or anything of the sort, no do they figure out a time to meet again. It’s “casually hand over the money, casually thank me, casually leave the restaurant, and go back home as if nothing happened.”

“Julia” doesn’t entertain its audience so much as it cheats it. Up until that restaurant scene, Lillian has gone through the whole movie thinking she might finally have a chance to catch up with Julia. Remember the musical Annie, where the little redhead escapes from an orphanage and tries to find her parents, only to discover in the end that her parents are dead? “Julia” plays out like that. As Julia continues to disregard every letter Lillian writes her, we keep getting a notion that, for reasons unexplained, Julia just might not want to speak to Lillian. I guess Lillian never got the memo.


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