Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Review: Julie & Julia (2009)

* * *

Director: Nora Ephron
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams

Coming a little late to this particular party, but better late than never. Judging from other people’s reactions to this film, I liked it a little more than most, perhaps because I’ve read the book (half of it, at any rate) and am therefore familiar with how irritating Julie Powell comes across in print. Seriously y’all, the Julie Powell character as played by Amy Adams is a breath of fresh air in comparison. It’s not enough to make the film more than a middling entertainment, but it’s something, right?

Julie and Julia is based on two true stories, only one of which most people would be remotely interested in hearing. In the present day we have Julie Powell (Adams), secretary turned blogger turned published writer, and in the not so distant past we have Julia Child (Meryl Streep, looking like she’s having an absolute blast) in the years before she becomes the famous Julia Child. Julie is in the midst of what I suppose you could call a mid-mid life crisis, approaching 30 and deeply dissatisfied with her professional life. She meets friends (not real friends, really, and we never see any of them again after this one scene) for lunch and finds herself reduced as they ask her about her job with barely concealed pity and then move on to discuss their own important jobs and big promotions. Feeling increasingly left behind, Julie decides to try to make some room for herself in the zeitgeist by starting a blog (“I have thoughts!” she declares as she launches into her plan) which will chart her progress through Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Meanwhile, in France several decades earlier, Julia finds her calling as a chef after first giving hat making and bridge a try. All she’s really looking for is a hobby to occupy her time while her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) is at work, but when she secures a place at La Cordon Blue school, she falls in love with her new hobby. Teaming up with Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey), she sets out to write a cook book for American women about French cuisine. The trio (well, mostly Julia and Simone) spend years working on their book, enduring numerous rejections while certain that their creation is a winner. The parallels drawn between Julia’s struggle with her cook book and Julie’s struggle gaining recognition from her blog are numerous, which helps in terms of flow but does grow a bit tiresome as the film approaches its end. The two halves of the story, one rather banal, the other brimming with life, cannot be made equal no matter how many times the film underscores Julie's scenes with a "see, she's just like Julia!" attitude.

Adams is an actress I've liked ever since her scene stealing turn in Drop Dead Gorgeous ("They won't let you perform naked. I asked.") and I think she does a decent job with what she has to work with. The film never seems very interested in developing Julie as a character, which of course begs the questions of why they included the character at all. Why not just make a movie about Julia Child starring Meryl Streep if that's what you really wanted to do? I don't object to Julie as a character, though I never felt invested in her, but I do object to the film's half-hearted treatment of that segment of the story.

As for the Julia half, it's pretty wonderful and it's fairly obvious that this is the half that writer/director Nora Ephron was really passionate about. The scenes between Julia and Paul are sweet, particularly the one in which they learn that Julia's sister (played all too briefly by the always fantastic Jane Lynch) is pregnant. When Julia breaks down in tears, saying, "I'm so happy," you can really get a sense of the variety of emotions she feels at that moment, from sadness and frustration at her own childlessness, jealousy, and of course genuine happiness for her sister. It's a great moment from both Streep and Tucci, whose performances perfectly complement each other throughout the film. In the end, Julie & Julia may be wildly uneven, but the Julia half makes it worth seeing as a whole.


Wendymoon said...

I just saw this movie last night, so I guess I'm late to the party, too. But I really agree with your assessment of the Julia part of the story being much better than the Julie part.

I also loved the scene with Julia's reaction to her sister's pregnancy. I had thought I caught in an earlier scene a hint of Julia's feelings about being childless (the look of longing at a passing baby) but that scene made it more obvious. Made me wonder how much not having children fueled Julia's drive and desire for something to do, but I'm glad that was only a small part of the movie.

Maybe I should write my own review and not take up too much comment space. :-)

Tom said...

Meryl deserves the Oscar for this.

Norma Desmond said...

@Wendymoon: That's an interesting observation about cooking replacing raising children for Julia. I hadn't thought of that. I look forward to reading your review.

@Tom: I think she'll certainly be nominated, though I have to imagine that at this point awards and nominations can't mean that much for her; her reputation is already solidly assured.