Monday, August 31, 2009


Julie & Julia would be an interesting movie even if it wasn't good, which it is. This is a movie that has a heroine (Julie Powell) that is completely unlikeable and yet never tells us if that's the way the movie set her up or if it's just a failure of director Nora Ephron. This isn't me giving the movie the benefit of the doubt because I enjoyed it so much, there really is no tell that allows the audience to see what Ephron was trying to do. If she did that on purpose then bully for her because it continues to take you out of the movie.

Julie & Julia plays out as two films, one about Julie a failed writer stuck in a dead end job while facing the dark cloud of turning thirty. The second is how chef and legend Julia Childs started cooking and rose to become one of the most important figures in pop culture. Both movies are charming and well acted but the story of Julia Childs is really where the movie comes alive. I think Nora Ephron took a calculated risk by making the Julia story so warm and inviting while keeping the Julie side very urban and almost cold. If the Julie side could hold a candle to the Julia side the experiment would've have created a nice juxtaposition.

What makes the experiment fall flat is again the idea that Julie is completely unlikeable which hurts Ephron's attempt to draw parallels between Julia and Julie about how cooking saved them both and changed their lives. Julia does it because she loves food, loves Paris and is filled with a life she wants to share through her cooking. Julie starts cooking in order to write a blog and get recognized like her friends who are of the same age but incredibly more successful. What starts as parallels quickly dissolve into differences that seem reverent to Childs while turning Julie into a spoiled brat.

Actress Amy Grant who plays Julie tries to make her a gawky girl who lacks self confidence because of her failures in life who gains that confidence back through her blog about trying to cook all 500 recipes in Juliya Childs famous The Art Of French Cooking. Instead Julie comes off as whiny, bitchy and when she does gain some success extremely smug and self congratulatory.

Even her motivations seem weird because the girls who are her "friends" suck while the people she really shares her life with are wonderful and supportive. Why not focus on them and shove a middle finger at the others? Ephron tries to throw some scenes in pre-blog where Julie talks about her love of cooking but they feel really forced. As if they realized their dilemma in the editing room and tried to fix it with re-shoots.

There is also no real chemistry between Julie and her husband so when things start going wrong there it lacks the emotional punch it's supposed to have. By the end of the movie I wanted to say that Ehpron was trying to show us how different Julie & Juliya were but since Julie never really grows as a person and just gets everything she wants you're not sure if that idea was even in there. I suppose you could chock it up to being based on real events but that feels like a cop out.

On the flipside the Julia Childs part is electric every time it's on the screen. Meryl Streep's performance as Julia Childs transcends acting to achieve that rare occurrence when the actor disappears completely within the person they are portraying. Streep is never ever on screen, it is always Julia. The same can be said for Stanley Tucci who plays Childs' husband Paul Childs. Tucci gives a command performance that never tries to compete or take the spotlight from Streep but still stands strong. These are two consummate actors who love their parts and give it everything they have. There is not one second you don't believe them as not just husband and wife but also soul mates, deeply in love and deeply connected to each other.

It's a testimony to the power of Streep and Tucci that their performances are so wonderful it makes the entire movie worth seeing. It's also a nod to Ehpron because she wrote and directed these scenes and really brought them to life. I wanted her to draw that magic out of the Julie parts but it never comes. It could've been that the real Julie was not a very likable person so Ephron was stuck. It could have also been an experiment that didn't go well, which is what I think happened. The Julie parts aren't all bad but I would be lying if I said you didn't wait through them to see Julia Childs again.

When push comes to shove Julie & Julia is a great movie and one I'd recommend seeing. It has its problems but none of them are so bad they ruin the film. Regardless of any misgivings about the Julie stuff just coming to see the Julia parts will send you home happy. I look at it like the Julia Childs section is worth the price of admission and the rest of it is free anyway. I was also fascinated with an unexpected result from seeing Julie & Julia, now I want to learn how to cook!! With so few grown up movies during a summer of bang, boom, slash Julie & Julia is definitely a gem, even if it is a tarnished one.

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