Starring Jessica Chastain, Samantha Morton, Colin Farrell
She is at it again; two-time Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain is releasing four films in one year. It started earlier this fall season with the awards-hopeful film, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. She followed that up with what’s being called a highly emotional performance in the soon-to-be-a-blockbuster, Interstellar, and then, finally, A Most Violent Year, which also has Oscar buzz. Miss Julie, however, feels more like a foreign film; it’s directed by Oscar-nominated actress Liv Ullman in her return to behind the camera after a 15-year absence. The Norwegian filmmaker derives some of their best performances from Chastain, Farrell and Morton as they are allowed to chew the scenery and the dialogue to shreds.
Born into privilege yet destined to associate with the lower class, Miss Julie (Chastain) makes her cook Kathleen (Morton) and her father’s valet, John (Farrell), very nervous when she mingles with them in the kitchen, visits their private quarters, and even requests he dance with her. It’s 1890 in Ireland, and with strict class assignments in play and the Baron away, his daughter runs the house however she sees fit, which often includes having a drink or dancing past her bedtime with the local townspeople. After John confesses to having had a childhood crush on Julie, he finally gives in to her forward flirtatious advances while his fiance Kathleen is tucked away in her room. This midsummer night becomes a calamity of drunken passion where the push and pull of class authority creates unrest.
Chastain, Farrell and Morton chew the scenery and the dialogue to shreds.
First and foremost, Miss Julie as a film is entirely too long-winded in running time. Each block of scenes can carry on dialogue for ten minutes or longer, even with cuts, but sustained conversation reinforces playwright August Strindberg’s original conception. It seems Ullman objects to altering the material by allowing the actors the freedom to play out these back-and-forth arguments, alternating between one character being in charge and then the other. In fact, they all have their empowering moment, although none as strong as when Chastain (The Help, Zero Dark Thirty) goes after John with the meat clever. Veins nearly bursting from her temple, the endless sunlight shrouding her fire-red hair, this is something no one should miss, especially Oscar voters.
Many times, these period-adapted plays don’t transition well into feature films, partly because the directors, in going from stage to screen, may not truly understand the audience’s patience and attention span. Here, thankfully, the performances are what keep you riveted…at least for 90 minutes. It’s about 30 minutes too long, and that’s the film’s biggest downfall. Ullman’s script also repeats many arguments and monologues. We hear “I’m tired”, “have a drink”, and “I want to die” too many times to count. Still, the more they drink and the longer they battle, the stronger the performances and the higher the stakes for each character who is facing the same dilemma from different standpoints.
Chastain gives her most vein popping, visceral and electable performance to date.