4 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson
Whenever Tilda Swinton drifts down the red carpet at a movie premiere resembling David Bowie during his "Aladdin Sane" period (which was anything but), I often think she's the ideal embodiment of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. And what I'm beholdin' makes me think she's more ready for a rubber room than a screening room. On the surface she qualifies as the white Grace Jones, an androgynous wisp straight out of a Sy-Fi Channel movie.
So giving her the lead role in "Julia" as a worn, easy, but oddly still alluring alcoholic was bound to be a casting calamity or had to be a tax write off, right? Wrong. Tall Tilda is a titanic talent who turns "Julia" into a tremendous one woman show.
As the movie opens, Julia is being laid off for sleeping in once too often. (When she did make it in she was often too drunk or hung over to function.) This would be a wake up call for most folks, even someone who uses vodka as mouthwash, but according to Julia, her bad luck is everyone else's fault. She continues to drink until she blacks out, waking up dry-mouthed and embarrassed in strangers cars or wrapped in her wrinkled covers like a rotting sausage. Mitch (Saul Rubinek, the chubby man's Woody Allen), her one true friend and financial supporter, convinces Julia to go to an AA meeting, where she meets her twitchy neighbor, Elena (creepy Kate Del Castillo). Elena immediately opens up to Julia, and knowing she's hard up for cash, offers her $50,000 to help her kidnap her son, Tom, away from his abusive grandfather. Julia agrees, but rewrites the plan: she'll kidnap Tom and extort a few million from his grandpa. Julia makes a rash of ransom-wrecking mistakes, such as panicking then pancaking Tom's guardian, forgetting to wear her mask when she admonishes the boy, and stuffing Tom with enough sleeping pills to shut him up without realizing they can also cause him to shut down.
During the course of "Julia's" fast-paced plot," Swinton goes from slut to swindler to secret agent, displaying a slippery sense of survival. Rubinek (Artie in "Warehouse 13") lends his usual credible bespeckled nerdy presence as Mitch. Yes, he loves Julia and often functions as her easily swayed enabler - but unlike the milquetoast characters he's played in the past, Rubinek's Mitch has a few scenes in which he displays a profane backbone. Kate Del Castillo overstates wild-eyed Elena's jittery, jumbled dual personality so much you have to wonder why Julia couldn't figure out Elena was koo-koo for Cocoa Puffs and completely unreliable from the start. Still, Castillo splits Elena's personality between naive concerned mother and bug-eyed acid casualty with unnerving acting expertise. And in what battling barrio did they find Horacio Garcia Rojas? Rojas is so convincing as the frothing, unscrupulous kidnapper, Santos, you'll swear he was reared in the bosom of a street gang. I wouldn't mess with him, even if his name is Horatio.
Given the number of problems Julia creates for herself, I was pleasantly surprised the plot maintained a sense of realism. We may not live a loser's lifestyle like Julia, but there's always a logical cause and effect for even the most outlandish things that happen to her. The ending is inconclusive, but that's part of "Julia's" allure - it makes you wonder if she's the same me-first juicer she was at the beginning of the film of if she's developed enough of a conscience to do the right thing.
Tilda Swinton may look like a refugee from Area 51, but her acting skills are out of this world. "Julia's" worth checking out - even if you have to beg, borrow, or kidnap a copy