Review: Julia (1977)

Director: Fred Zinneman
Screenwriters: Alvin Sargent
Starring: Jane Fonda, Vanessa Redgrave, Jason Robards, Maximilian Schell, Hal Holbrook
Genres: Drama, Historical Fiction
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for mild violence/frightening images/profanity
Release Dates: 1/8/78 (Wide Theatrical); 12/5/16 (Streaming)
Where to Watch: Hulu
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 76%
Runtime: 1 hour, 57 minutes
Oscars: Won — Supporting Actor (Robards), Supporting Actress (Redgrave), Adapted Screenplay; Nominated — Picture, Leading Actress (Fonda), Supporting Actor (Schell), Director, Cinematography, Costume Design, Editing, Original Score


Julia is a movie about which I knew very little, aside from the fact that it had won Oscars — and, being that I’m a movie snob who wants/needs to see as many Oscar-winning (and nominated) films as possible, this was on my seemingly never-ending queue. Also, I’d seen very little of Jane Fonda’s earlier, more dramatic work, and had only seen her in things like Grace and Frankie (a few episodes here and there) and the disappointing Book Club.  Plus, she’s impossible to miss these days, what with her extreme activism, primarily focused on climate change (yay!) — heck, she has even gotten herself (and other protesters) arrested!  But I digress. 

This film is [apparently] based on a true story, that is centered on the strong friendship — that may have been more, as is implied at times — between two women, from childhood through adulthood. The two women live in Europe through WWII, and things get really interesting when Fonda’s character gets tasked with transporting anti-Nazi documents in order to visit her dear friend in Berlin. Fonda totally sells it, and you can believe that she’s so determined to see her friend that she’s willing to make these risks. 

Despite the fascinating WWII-related events that transpire, as well as the new-found success and wealth that Fonda’s playwright endures, the story is at its core a study in the strong bond between two women who end up in very different circumstances. When the two are finally reunited, it’s the highlight of the film, and Fonda proves that she is as gifted with expressiveness and drama as she is with comedy. (She was nominated for Lead Actress). Redgrave, in an Oscar-winning role, is more subtle here, but no less effective. Her presence is felt even when she’s not in a scene, though that’s also thanks to the solid flashbacks — both featuring Fonda and Redgrave as adults, and younger actresses as their child/teenage selves. 

There’s also Maximilan Schell (in another nominated performance) as the anti-Nazi German who tasks Fonda’s character with this important mission, as well as Jason Robards (in a Oscar-winning role) as the older lover/partner of Fonda’s character. In just a handful of scenes, like Redgrave, he makes quite the impression. 

Fonda’s narration, especially at the end, is a bit odd, although it is based on the real-life person on whom the story is based. Also, I feel as though some threads/pieces of the narrative were unexplained, although perhaps that was the point.