Message to Tilda Swinton: relax, you already have an Academy Award and no one is going to take it back from you. However, one should hope that Swinton has a good dental plan - it will come in handy when the time comes to pry out the scenery she aggressively chomps in Julia.
Swinton's Julia is an alcoholic slut who drinks and screws her way out of a vaguely decent life and into a dead-end fringe of poverty. An unexpected salvation comes when a neighbor agrees to pay Julia to help kidnap her son, who is living with her wealthy estranged husband. Julia, sensing the neighbor's desperation and sizeable bank account, negotiates a large sum for the endeavor. Needless to say, things don't go as planned.
It is difficult to determine if filmmaker Erick Zonca was unable to rein in Swinton's worst instincts or if he stoked them. Either way, the actress runs amok - channeling Bette Davis with her melodramatic smoking, exposing a Brendan Behan-worthy insatiability for booze, staggering in tacky high heels and tasteless clothes, and tough talking like a film noir dame with a penchant for trouble.
But at no time does Swinton ever give the impression that she's playing a real person. Her alcoholic is a movie star's notion of a problem drinker - full of oversized gestures and frenetic emotional pendulum swings. Her performance isn't ridiculous enough for camp but it is too silly for any genuine award consideration.
Fortunately, Julia has been marketed as an under-the-radar effort and it is unlikely that Swinton's career will suffer any great damage. The same cannot be said for the sensibilities of the poor audience that should stumble over this little mess - hopefully, the theater's concession stand will have some whiskey to go with its popcorn.
Julia will be shown December 9 - 13, 2009 at the Museum of Fine Arts, 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, Mass. For more information visit the Museum of Fine Arts website.