The Bye Bye Man
The Bye Bye Man is the kind of film that is so boring and bereft of anything of possible interest that it becomes infuriating.
Old Jimmie Langdon, the impresario who taught the young Julia Langdon much of what she knows about the world, refers at one point to "What civilians call the real world." Theater people know better. All the world's a stage, and Julia is but a player on it. At one point, when she's asked for a loan, she replies with the same speech she used earlier in a play. Her marriage is "in name only." Even her extramarital affair is a performance; her lover, Lord Charles, finally confesses, "I play for the other side." Her son, Roger, says: "You have a performance for everybody. I don't think you really exist."
In "Being Julia," she departs from the playwright's lines and improvises a new closing act right there on the stage, and it's appropriate that her professional and personal problems should be resolved in front of an audience. Like Margo Channing, the Bette Davis character in "All About Eve," Julia draws little distinction between her public and private selves. She lives to be on the stage, and when, at 45, she perceives that her star is dimming, she fights back with theatrical strategies.
Annette Bening plays Julia in a performance that has great verve and energy, and just as well, because the basic material is wheezy melodrama. "All About Eve" (1950) breathed new life into it all those years ago, but now it's gasping again. The film is based on Theatre, a 1937 novel by W. Somerset Maugham that was not one of his few great works, and has been adapted by a director and a writer who have separately created much more important fictions about the theater. Istvan Szabo directed "Mephisto," with its brilliant performance by Klaus Maria Brandauer as an actor who sells out to the Nazis to protect his career, and Ronald Harwood wrote "The Dresser," one of the most knowledgeable of backstage plays.
Here they all seem to have followed Maugham into a soap opera. Bening is fresh and alive (is there another actress who smiles and laughs so generously and naturally?), but she's surrounded by stock characters. Jeremy Irons plays her husband and producer, Michael, who turns a blind eye to her lover, Lord Charles (Bruce Greenwood), and why should he not, since Charles actually decides to break up with her because of all the gossip -- and isn't gossip surely the best reason to have an affair with an actress?