' ' Cinema Romantico: Julia

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Imagine the Kevin Costner character in "A Perfect World" except now imagine he is a cross between Nicolas Cage of "Leaving Las Vegas" and Ashley Judd of "Twisted" as played by Tilda Swinton and you're on the right path to understanding "Julia". Swinton's title character is an out of control alcoholic who picks up men at bars, sleeps with them, abandons them in the morning, usually with disdain, and repeats the process. She has just been fired from her job she got through her extremely patient friend Mitch (Saul Rubinek), an ex alcoholic who attempts to get her to AA meetings, though the only one we see her attend she abandons after about 30 seconds.

It is here she meets the edgy Elena (Kate Del Castillo), a woman who turns out to be Julia's neighbor. Later, after another boozy blackout, Julia wakes in Elena's apartment who proceeds to explain that 1.) She brought Julia home after she passed out and 2.) She has a son Tom (Aidan Gould) who she is never allowed to see and who lives with his millionaire grandfather and who she plans to kidnap and take home to Mexico. Quite the wakeup call!

Julia dismisses this as the ranting of a lunatic. But something about it sticks with her. Perhaps it was Elena's offer of $50,000 for helping her in this abduction. See, Julia has money problems. She has no job obviously, and no money for rent, and owes Mitch money, and, heck, she even owes this cursory small time hood money. (None of these matters are ever explained in depth and I love details like that in screenplays since the characters would know this past history and would not need to repeat information for no reason other than updating the audience.) With the help of some liquor, Julia tells Elena she's in.

But then Elena says she doesn't have the money. She just wants her daughter back and such a noble cause supersedes money, right? Julia flips out and then decides to go at the kidnapping alone. To what point and purpose? She doesn't really know.

At this point director Erick Zonca's film shifts into the most harrowing of overdrives as Julia, frantic, waaaaaay in over her head, plotting and scheming as she goes, kidnaps Tom, alternately tying him up and drugging him and telling him she's not going to hurt him, explaining he's taking to him his mother, demanding ransom from his grandfather, hurtling toward even more grotesque and unbelievable complications south of the border where Julia will stalk Tijuana streets in heels with a handgun, crossing some seriously sinister people, and lying to all of them, time after time, heightening the money demands, playing sides against one another, on and on. It's as if you're a driver's ed teacher with a kid at the wheel who is a really bad driver and suddenly that passenger's side break has stopped working and the kid is gunning the car on I-55 and you're stomping down on useless break screaming, "Stop! For the love of God, stop!!!"

Do Julia and Tom bond, as one might expect from this sort of film? Eh....not so much. Julia is not likeable. Get that straight. She smacks the kid around, leaves him sleeping in the empty desert to try and collect the ransom, rails about getting what she "deserves" even though, you know, she's an alcoholic gun-wielding kidnapper and at one point in Tijuana reverts to her earlier behavior with the poor kid in tow which, of course, has dire consequences.

And yet! Recalling that famed moment in "Psycho", as filmmakers have discussed breathlessly for years, when Norman Bates watches Marion Crane's car sink to the bottom of the lake and you, the audience, realize you wanted that car to sink, there came a moment in "Julia" when a housekeeper at the hotel where Julia has Tom stashed catches a glimpse of the kidnapped kid (possibly) and Julia realizes it and realizes she's gotta flee the scene ASAP and, all of a sudden, I caught myself thinking, "Get out of there, Julia! Hurry!"

It's not that the movie provides empathy, per se, but it gets you involved. Zonca treats the material like the grittiest, most absurd mock documentary you have ever seen. Swinton commands the screen in all her wacked out, reckless, if-I'm-gonna-sink-I-might-as-well-go-to-the-bottom glory. "Julia" is not always easy to watch but, trust me, it's well worth watching.