REVIEW: Julie & Julia [2009]

“Nobody here but us servantless American cooks”

I was very confused on where to put my head upon sitting down to watch the new Nora Ephron film Julie & Julia. Here is the consummate chick flick writer/director and yet the previews alluded to the work being more than that; even if “more than that” meant it still looked like a made-for-television type Lifetime tale. The trailers all said, “based on two true stories”, but I still didn’t take that statement as literally as one should. Thinking that the whole story revolved around Julie Powell and her life-changing blog running through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, to be interspersed with Child herself in France at the same time, (goes to show you how much I know about the late chef), I ended up being completely wrong. Although it is adapted from Powell’s account of the year between 2002 and 2003, the Child moments end up being based upon her own posthumously published memoirs My Life in France, telling of her life in the 1950s while making the cookbook that Powell utilizes.

Surprisingly, even with the span of five decades between the two plots, it all runs together smoothly. Ephron has captured two lives that become intertwined in a post-9/11 world, (at least in Powell’s mind since we do find out what Child thinks of her towards the end of the film), that also uncannily mirror each other. Child and her husband Paul have just moved to Paris because of his new post, both having met while working for the CIA, and Powell and her beau Eric have uprooted their Manhattan life to Queens, living above a pizza parlor to be closer to his office. These women are strong-willed, but also willing to take a backseat to their husbands’ careers. However, they can’t stand still for too long. A love for food is shared and while one embarks on being a culinary master, something everyone told her was impossible, the other uses that woman’s education to do something with her life, while also helping to become the writer she always wanted to, and knew she would, become.

The film is basically told with the four main characters, only rarely being seen with friends or colleagues. I can envision this script being reworked for the stage, watching the lights go down on the 1950s kitchen and up on the 2002, cramped apartment, switching back and forth as the story progresses. The length also lends the comparison to a theatre performance, complete with two hour-long acts, the first showing their quests for meaning and the second the spoils of their long and sometimes trying journeys. But, while the runtime is long, I cannot remember ever thinking to myself that the action was too slow. There are no dead spots wherein I’d tell myself how I wished they’d just skip over it all, instead I truly think the attention to detail helped make the film more intriguing. I enjoyed watching Powell’s little blog become an overnight sensation and seeing her jubilation as people commented and sent her supplies to finish her experiment. Some of that may stem from hopes of my own movie blog seeing that kind of success, but whatever. What really worked for me, though, was the exposure to Julia Child and the unorthodox way her cooking career began. I never would have thought a film on her life would be anything but a Food Channel special, and boy was I wrong.

I don’t want to demean anything Julie Powell has done, I mean here is a film based on a book she wrote, based on a blog she created, but there really isn’t as much weight to her half of the story. Yes, there are the marital meltdowns as well as the coping with becoming 30, but these are all problems each of us will face and overcome. Amy Adams is great as Powell, showing the innocence and yearning for more in her life, but she is overshadowed by Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Child. Once you get past her Muppet-like voice, (is there any accent/inflection that she can’t do to perfection?), you feel at ease with this giant of a woman. She truly is the kind of person that you just can’t hate. Her zest for life is apparent at all times and her laugh is infectious, especially when by the side of her husband, played by the wonderful Stanley Tucci. These two are in wedded bliss, willing to do anything for the other. Streep is definitely having fun and her quips are always followed by more laughter, adding a charm that would have been missing if she didn’t know to laugh at her own jokes.

It is interesting, however, that while it works for Child, it doesn’t necessarily work for Powell. Child knows she is good and she shows it genially and to her close friends, wanting to overcome the oppression from those telling her she will fail. As for Powell, she is living in a different age. Her work is being sent to the world with the press of one button and her vanity is more selfish and harsh as a result. She begins to believe what she is doing is important for all her readers and begins to take it out on her husband, a nice turn from Chris Messina, trying his best to break into bigger roles after a nice run in “Six Feet Under”. Child’s ego becomes cute and endearing, while Powell’s just makes people call her a bitch. I think, in this regard, that it is an effective commentary on the changes in lifestyle the past half-century has taken. We are so much more connected in the 21st century that even the smallest thing in the world may be reaching millions, shooting our stars too far too fast, making so many little Icarus clones to get burned before they can settle in and stay humble.

In the end, Julie & Julia is a very cute film that can effectively fill a night out on the town. Definitely a date movie and more fluff than substance, the story’s inventive melding of two autobiographies makes it more interesting than one may assume. The acting is superb and the interactions a lot of fun. Besides Streep and Tucci’s shared screentime, I couldn’t stop laughing when she and Jane Lynch’s portrayal of her sister were together. Here are two giant ladies walking around Paris, (the filmmakers must have hired the shortest extras in the city), and they are overflowing with sheer joy. I guess that joy needed to be tempered with the more serious nature of the Powell side, but I will admit that I could have dealt with Streep’s Child for the entire runtime if given the chance.

Julie & Julia 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

[1] Amy Adams as “Julie Powell” in Columbia Pictures’ Julie & Julia. 2008 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved. **ALL IMAGES ARE PROPERTY OF SONY PICTURES ENTERTAINMENT


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