Julia (2008)recommended viewing

Are you shot?
Erick Zonca
Tilda Swinton, Saul Rubinek, Kate del Castillo, Aidan Gould
The Setup: 
Woman is an alcoholic mess, THEN gets involved in a poorly-planned kidnapping.

I read a review of this and it sounded awesome, Tilda Swinton acting as a total white trash alcoholic woman who shoots her mouth off to anyone in sight and sleeps with any man that crosses her path, but when it said that she got involved in a poorly-planned kidnapping, I knew I wanted to see it. I really just can’t read or see enough about white trash!

So we open with Swinton as Julia at a bar, where she’s a little tipsy and flirts with this guy. We next see them both wake up in a car in a parking lot—he checks for his wallet in a panic, she accusingly asks where her purse is—and she stumbles a few feet over to her car. This event leads to the loss of her job, which she blames on some vindictive woman at work. Her AA sponsor, who got her the job [or something], tells her she HAS to go to a meeting, or they can’t be friends anymore. She stands outside a meeting, smoking [that’s kind of the same as going!], where she meets Elena, who says that Julia lives right across from her. “I’m not really down with the good neighbor thing,” Julia snaps back. She’s barely more friendly the next morning, when she wakes up in Elena’s apartment, having been found passed out in the parking lot outside.

It is then that Elena spills her plan to kidnap her son back from his grandfather, who is a millionaire. Elena says that she’ll get a ton of money for the kid, and then all her problems will be over. Julia takes a few days to think about it, but finally decides to go in for it, despite how poorly-planned it is. Elena’s plan is filled with emotional outbursts and “it’ll all just work out” statements, such as her response when Julia asks her what will happen if her son, Tom, doesn’t recognize her: “No, he’ll recognize me.” But we soon find that Julia has her own reasons for entering into this plan: she’s going to kidnap the kid from Elena, and collect the money herself. She says she’s tired of losing, and wants something for herself. Of course, her own behavior and decisions have nothing to do with her state in life; it’s all just “bad luck.” By now we’ve noticed how the camera keeps looking around to pick up little details of Julia’s life, and that despite the ugliness of its subjects, the cinematography is gorgeous. Everyone in my audience was also laughing throughout at just how very awful Julia is.

So the day comes for the kidnapping. Julia gets Tom’s guardian away from him, then runs the guy over! Twice! She makes Tom, who is eight years old and wearing nothing but a Speedo, get in the trunk, and drives him to a motel. By the way, Julia owes $3,000 of the $5,000 she expects to get to some unsavory characters, and discovered not long ago that Elena doesn’t actually HAVE any money, she’s just expecting to GET the money—you know, when it all works out perfectly. Julia holds the terrified kid at gunpoint and orders him to shower. The young actor,Aidan Gould, is wonderful and really looks terrified, especially when Julia suddenly calls him by name. Julia keeps him in the room for a few days, binding him with duct tape and tying him to the radiator at one point, telling him she’s taking him to his mother, and that his grandfather “is just some tired old fuck who’s gonna die soon.” At one point Tom tells Julia he’s afraid of her and she says “Look, are you SHOT?”

Eventually Julia calls the grandfather herself, and it doesn’t take long until he knows who she is, and her picture is all over the papers. She takes Tom out to the desert, and takes off in the car to go drinking when he falls asleep. Of course he’s not there when she gets back, and soon after she finds him, a helicopter comes out of nowhere with a searchlight. Eerily, all of these other people start emerging from the bushes and running! The helicopter chases Julia until she suddenly hits and breaks through a huge wall and—is now in MEXICO!

Tom is now getting bizarrely affectionate with her, trusting her more than anyone else, which is good [as it goes], since they are warned that a single woman and child are in great danger in Tijuana. Before you know it, Tom is kidnapped by Mexican kidnappers, and Julia finds hidden strength within herself [based on desperation for money] to extort the grandfather to pay the Mexican kidnappers, and to sneak her way into the kidnapper’s lair to get Tom back—for the money. Let’s not be sentimental. It all explodes from there into a climax involving, as my movie companion later said “that last 20 minutes where you’re totally on edge because you have no idea WHAT might happen.”

I liked it from beginning to end. I know that this movie hasn’t received a very good critical reception, due to its being so over-the-top and somewhat blasé about its violence, but these things didn’t bother me when they aren't exploitational. Swinton is great, affecting a stable American accent that she wields throughout with hardly a waver [only her pronunciation of “Medicine” as “Med-syn” gives her away], and she is fiercely committed to the part, not caring a whit about how awful she looks. The movie elicits Bad Santa-style laughs for the first half, because you just can’t believe how awful these people are being, but gradually the emotional content deepens and the violence becomes really scary and unpredictable, and the movie becomes more than just a wallow in trashiness. That sense it creates in the viewer, that you really don’t know what might happen next, also generates its own kind of excitement, especially as we know that whatever fate might throw at her, Julia will fight back with whatever means are at her disposal.

This movie is often compared to John Cassavetes’ Gloria, but it also reminded me of After Dark, My Sweet, which also features a child kidnapping gone wrong and the kidnappers forging a tender relationship with their victim, and also Boarding Gate, in the way that it centers on a resourceful, vicious woman trapped in a situation of escalating violence—and also that sense that you have no idea what might happen.

Anyway, if you like Tilda Swinton,or are amused by the best-laid plans of white trash criminals going awry, and unpredictable narratives, I say go for it.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! It’s both funny and queasy-making in the best way.