Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Julie & Julia: Grade B

Julie & Julia (2009)

Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina; Co-writer and director Nora Ephron.

Streep is Julia Child, the famous cookbook author and prominent television chef over several decades. In postwar Paris she is drifting without purpose to be with her diplomatic attaché husband (Tucci). She takes the Cordon Bleu course, and after many years of effort manages to get her book published, the iconic Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The television show hardly features in the movie.

This is not a very interesting story but Meryl Streep is mesmerizing. Her impersonation of Child is perfect, not just the falsetto voice, but the gait, gestures, attitudes, diction: all perfect. Channeling counts as acting, and even if you don’t know Julia Child, you would find the character interesting and its expression masterful. However, as a biography, there isn’t much content there. It’s all about the acting.

Meanwhile, Adams is Julie Powell, a depressed young cubicle worker in modern New York, living in a flat over a pizza place in Queens. Like Child’s character in Paris of 60 years ago, she takes up cooking just for something to do, and she decides, for no obvious reason, to cook every recipe in Child’s book within a year, and blog about that experience. She does that, with predictable tribulations. The scene of putting live lobsters into boiling water is unashamedly lifted right from Annie Hall, and most of the other cooking, serving, and eating scenes are equally unimaginative. This character is not very interesting and neither is her story. However, Amy Adams is brilliant, even within this restricted role. As with Streep, even though you don’t care about her character, you do care about her superb acting.

So those two stories alternate in time slices and that’s it. Julia and Julie never meet, but they both accomplish their goals. As a piece of storytelling, you are left with the thought, “Who cares?” But the acting by the principals makes the film worthwhile. The cinematography is also above average – extremely sensual pictures of food. The movie will make you hungry for sure. The directing is expert but pointed at sentimentality over psychological or narrative substance, which for my taste, is a defect.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you that the nub of this film is the acting. Early in the film Julia and her husband park in front of a cafe. As Meryl Streep gets out of the car she almost does a "Mary Tyler Moore"-style pirouette of excitement. It took my breath away that Ms. Streep was able to convey that moment. It immediately carried me psychically back to France where I've had that feeling a time or two (but haven't made the pirouette). Amy Adams--nice to look at but terribly outclassed.