Sunday, August 9, 2009
Julie & Julia
Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia is a cheerful look at the success of two women: Julia Child, the famous cook who brought French cuisine to America, and Julie Powell, the aspiring writer who wrote a blog about cooking the 500-plus recipes in Julia Child’s first cookbook in 365 days.
As Julia Child, Meryl Streep is initially entertaining but ultimately irritating. At first I rather enjoyed Streep’s imitation of the cook famous for her breathy, high-pitched voice and her casual approach to cooking. As the film went on, I just saw Streep overacting and I couldn’t wait for the story to get back to Julie Powell. The parts about Child in Paris, with sets that look too much like period fabrications, as though they’ve never seen any wear, play like a PBS show for kids called Child in Fantasyland – with Streep, and most of the other performers, all exaggerated intonations and gestures, the kind of hyperbolic presentation kids need to get the point. The cooking classes have the same tone as Ratatouille - and I don’t mean to cast aspersions upon that wonderful film; Ratatouille is supposed to be a cartoon fantasy.
Streep fairs best in the parts in which she enacts episodes from her cooking show. I especially liked her commenting about how delicate a maneuver flipping an omelette is and how you can always put it back together if you mess up. That’s the element of Child’s cooking that I appreciated most; she was realistic and never snobby. These TV bits are done more subtly, and that’s when Streep is at her best. In addition, in some silent moments, Streep succeeds in making Julia Child appear before you on screen.
As Julie Powell, Amy Adams is more delightful throughout. Of course, she’s got the advantage because she doesn’t have to impersonate a famous person with distinctive voice and mannerisms. Nevertheless, she comes across as a real person, striving to be a recognized writer. Her struggles with her recipes that lead to meltdowns, sprawled on the kitchen floor, inject more moments of realism into the film. In addition, Adams has a natural style that comes across as more convincing than Streep’s impersonation. Adams keeps you on Powell’s side throughout her challenge, whereas there were times when I just wanted Streep to shut up.
A fun aspect of the film is the presentation of Powell’s blogging experience shown in contrast with Child’s toils with old-fashioned publishing: typing pages on onion skin with carbon paper, stacking them in a manuscript box, and shipping them off to the publisher. Perhaps accurate, unfortunately not representative of the norm, both writers are shown attaining instant success with their ventures, without much adversity in the publishing world. Child thinks it’s a tragedy when she gets turned down by Houghton Mifflin, but she gets quickly snapped up by Knopf. One rejection letter! I wish! Meanwhile, Powell is interviewed by the New York Times and then comes home to 65 phone messages from editors, agents, and produces offering her opportunities. Meanwhile, the film is positive about blogging, suggesting that a blog is a satisfying pursuit for a writer that achieves a real connection with readers. As Powell says, “Like if I didn’t write, they would really be upset.”
The parallel stories are both so rosy and upbeat that minor setbacks are thrown into each so that Streep and Adams have chances to perform a little range. For Streep, it’s having to move from Paris to Marseilles. Tough! For Powell, it’s the contrived hubbie tirade: something to the effect of “You’re so self-centered and all you think about is your cooking and blog! I’m leaving!” Of course, hubbie comes back. Who wouldn’t come back to Amy Adams and all that good food?
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed a lot of this film. I enjoyed Amy Adams, the cooking scenes, and Streep/Child’s cooking show slots, but a lot of Streep’s overacting and her too-perfect relationship with her husband (Stanley Tucci) made me cringe. Despite how easily Child and Powell find success in the publishing world, I still feel the film is well-intended in its presentation of the frustrating pursuit of writing. In regards to the blogging world, it convinced me that blog readers care. Thinking of my friends who write movie blogs, I concluded, “Like if you don’t write, they would really be upset.”