Monday, October 26, 2009

Review: Julie and Julia (2009)

So this is the new Meryl Streep and Amy Adams picture. As if that's a genre on it's own. It's directed by the uneven Nora Ephron, writer of such masterpieces as Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally. However, she's also the writer of Heartburn and the writer-director of Bewitched, Hanging Up and Lucky Numbers.

Interesting, this film both represents Ephron at her worst in terms of writing and directing and at her best. Not coincedentally, this is because the film is separated into two parts. So I'll review them in turn!

The 'Julie' part of this film centres around 9/11 insurance claim call center worker Julie Powell who decides to start a blog on her year long project to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's book. 524 recipes, 365 days. She has a husband, and a cat and she lives in a shitty apartment in Queens. So she's all like us, right?

This material isn't uninteresting, but Ephron's approach to it makes it so mawkish and ungainly. Neither Julie, played by Amy Adams, or her husband, played by Chris Messina are likeable characters. This isn't to say that likeable characters are needed, but these ones are only loosely written, and I found it impossible to sympathize with either of these people. It doesn't help that Amy Adams inimitable qualities as an actress, her liveliness and emotional alacrity, aren't utilized well at all. And the less said about Chris Messina, the better; he doesn't have the looks or the charisma to carry off a part like this. For the most part, he came off like a douche.

We cut into Julie's story during parts of the story, but it's never interesting or motivated. There's nothing to keep us interested in her story except from the central concept; her blog project. When they try and shove in side parts from Julie's life like her husband, her non-supportive family and a useless turn by the dull Mary Lynn-Raskjub; it comes off as just filling time.

Now the Julia parts of the story. These aren't always brilliant, granted, but they are a breath of fresh air from the Julie parts of the story. These parts of the story revolve around Julia Child's life from when she decides to go into cooking until the publication of her book. Meryl Streep, as you should know by now, plays Julia Child. (The one thing about these parts that I hated was the decision to put Streep in heels to make her the 6'2 height of Child. It worked, sure, but I was always looking for them to show or not show her feet.)

Stanley Tucci, in capable form, supports her as her husband, Paul, an employee of the American embassy in Paris. These parts of the film work because they're written in a much more subtle, gentle way. The facts and story are laid out for us and the film meanders through them like Julia Child does through a market. It's a very pleasant and laid-back experience.

Streep in this role performs another slam-dunk; among her best work of this decade, which is saying a lot already. Not only does she capture the mannerisms of Julia Child, but she captures the whole feeling of Julia Child. There are very few big moments, but they're not played for show or for obvious Oscar attention. There is a crying scene, but it's beautiful and nuanced, completely in line with the character. She's also really, really funny. (Bonus points for Jane Lynch as Julia's sister Dorothy; she's perfect in this tiny role.)

The film succeeds in these parts not only because of Streep, but because Julia Child is a genuinely interesting and unique character; the source material was so strong. We want to see this woman going through her life, and we want her to succeed. When you cut from this to Julie Powell, who I could care less about, it makes for uneven filmmaking.

I'm aware this is based off a book called Julie and Julia, but I think it was a poor choice to adapt it. Much more successful would have been to make a film on Julia Child, a much more interesting character. The motivation to put the stories together was also a sore spot for me, they don't seem to thematically relate and Julie Powell's statements that Julia saved her life seem forced at best.

A sufficient 90 minute film could have been made from her life, even just this little part of it, and it would have been delightful. Instead we get a two hour experience with Meryl Streep at her best and Amy Adams being miscast.

Ultimately: The highs are fun and exuberant. The lows are excruciating. But I still can't help but recommend this film for Streep doing what Streep does. B-

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