By Scott Martin
Julie & Julia, USA, 2009
Written and Directed by Nora Ephron
Based on the Books Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
Julie and Julia isn’t just a film about cooking. No, it’s much more than that. It’s a film about finishing whatever it is that you start, setting goals for yourself, and achieving those goals despite whatever it is that you may consider odds. Julia Child (Meryl Streep) worked as a government clerk before she discovered her flare and passion for cooking, and Julie Powell (Amy Adams) did the same. The similarities between the two leads are fascinating, so much so that you would almost expect Julie’s last name to start with a “C,” but, thankfully, real life isn’t so cliche. The actresses in the two lead roles each bring their signature styles to the forefront and flip them upside down to bring us not only two of the best performances of the year, but two of the best performances of their careers. Adams, who is generally extremely chipper and very upbeat, plays an utter bitch who becomes so involved in herself that she refuses to see how her actions raze the world around her, and Streep’s approach, while technically similar to her other lauded performances in that she adopts an accent and an obvious demeanor, is strikingly different. She doesn’t attempt to tone down the cartoonish nature of the larger-than-life Julia Child; rather, she celebrates the icon and gives new breath to someone who should be more prevalent in the public eye.
Julie Powell is a writer and a cubicle worker, who suffers from an all-too-human ailment: she doesn’t have it in her to finish what she starts; and Julia Child seems, early on, to have trouble finding something, anything at all, to start. Eventually, through a series of small failures, Julie decides to cook her way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. 365 days, 536 recipes. Can she do it? Only time (and an Internet connection, mixed with the curiosity of the user) can tell.
I’ve always been a begrudging fan of Nora Ephron’s. Her films generally don’t favor my taste, but I always wind up enjoying myself. She has a unique writing style, and can always manage to craft an interesting character; maybe not a character that can last for a lifetime, but certainly one that’s palatable for two hours (a problem that several contemporary writers seem to not be able to solve). I think the success of her screenplay here, though, lies in the source material, i.e. Julie Powell’s book. Though Child herself was publicly not a fan of Powell’s endeavor, she went on to appear on television, publish a book, and eventually have a film made about both women’s struggle to accomplish the same thing. Were it not for Powell’s book, I don’t think Ephron would have had the gumption to create such vibrant characters. Maybe it’s bias talking, but I generally don’t think she’s a strong writer or director. She does well here, though; I will give her that.
Chris Messina and Stanley Tucci co-star as Eric Powell and Paul Child, respectively, the men in Julie’s and Julia’s lives, and they hold their own weight next to their leading ladies. Messina has a number of scenes that allow him to display his genuine comedic timing, and Tucci’s performance is full of his huge heart and compassion for anyone with whom he shares the screen. There isn’t a performance in the film that isn’t touching in some way or other; couple that with the moving story, and you have a winner of a film. It boasts wonderful, if not textbook, cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt, seamless editing by Richard Marks, and a gorgeous score by Alexandre Desplat.
Contact the author: ScottMartin@MoviesIDidntGet.com