Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Julie & Julia, or How Meryl's Julia Child is a treat

[Disclaimer. Excepting the title, this post has been edited to purposely exclude food puns. If you want those, please go ahead and read any and all other reviews about Nora Ephron's latest]

Julie & Julia
Written and Directed by: Nora Ephron
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina & Jane Lynch (!)

The premise is simple: Julie Powell, a lowly cubicle worker in NYC (living in Queens - eek!) decides to plow her way through Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' and write a blog about it: 524 recipes in 365 days is no small feat but also not very cinematic. This explains why the other half of this film focuses on Child's years in Paris as she learns the art of cooking. Indeed, this double narrative gives Ephron a way to explore the larger than life Child figure and off-set the shrewish and at times off-putting antics of Adams' Julie. While the Queens-dwelling blogger's story is what drives the plot, I think the screenplay gives her little to do other than give a framing device for the much more exciting (and laugh-out-loud funny) story of her icon, Julia Child. This is of course, fine by me. I love Adams, but I love Meryl more.

There is a key therefore, to understanding this film and its centerpiece (namely, Streep's depiction of Julia Child). Since as audience members, we are put squarely in Julie Powell's shoes we are invited to see and explore Julia Child's life through Julie's eyes. The movie is very forthcoming about this in one of its final scenes, but I think it bears pointing this out because for all the strong work that Adams does as Julie, it is Streep (and to a lesser extent, Tucci as her husband and Lynch as her sister) who steals the show and does so by playing, not Julia Child per se but Julie's Julia Child. It is because Streep understands this that her depiction of Child hits the right chord: in a crowded NYC theater, every gesture (smile, look, grunt, you name it) from Streep delighted the audience. Just like Julia, Streep seems motivated by the motto: 'Never apologize' (and why would she? She's Meryl effin' Streep for goodness sakes!). This makes watching Julia's move from 'wife' to 'hat-maker' to 'cooking student' to 'cookbook writer extraordinaire' that much more thrilling; it gives the audience (and Julie) a way out of our own lives and into the cinematically enhanced world of Paris with Julia as our foodie guide.

Ultimately, Julie & Julia is a well crafted picture with a wonderful lead performance by Streep that has an obscenely hilarious first hour (the second half lags a bit) which effortlessly teeters between froth and funny without sacrificing character and offering up mouth-watering shots of food of all kinds. A-


Aaron Ahedo said...

I am sorry, I will have to disagree on this one with you. Are you being blinded by the Meryl/Amy charm??? I mean...funny/great acting... but A-??

I give it a B...B+ being generous. It's like one of those times when a good student does an "OK" job and you would feel bad if you give them a B because they are great, so you increase their grade a bit...

The movie drags after the hour (enough to not make an A)...that should never happen...and the ending was... I dunno? A turn off?? "Blah"? I think it is worth to watch it on DVD... not at the theater. MY OPINION of course.

Sorry, I needed to say something.

mB said...

Well, if we're judging on plot/pacing alone then yeah maybe the film is a B/B+ effort, but I do feel the performances (seeing Meryl and Stanley effortlessly exude married bliss, watching Jane and Meryl be giggly gangly sisters, following Amy on the subway train to Queens, etc.) and the production values (the lovely cinematography, the meticulous art direction - Julia's kitchen alone!, the period costumes, etc.) make me inclined to give it the edge it needs to make it an A- effort.

But like you say Aaron - we can agree to disagree ;-)