Sunday, August 30, 2009

Julie & Julia

Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” is a mediocre excursion into Julia Child and her influence not because of anything relating to Meryl Streep’s work. I just wanted to make that clear. No, what spoils the dish here is the section regarding Julie Powell, a New Yorker with a dead-end job who likes cooking and who makes it a project of preparing all of the recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one single year. Amy Adams, who’s usually pretty solid, doesn’t do very good work here. But what’s really odd is how the feel is so different in these two separate parts. They feel sort of as if made by different directors. They should be, but instead they’re bundled into one film, with the Powell story getting slightly more attention.

The film is all about the parallels between the lives of Child and Powell. As Julia moves to France because of her Communist husband Paul’s (Stanley Tucci) job, Julie moves into a small apartment in Queens near her husband Eric’s (Chris Messina) office. Both of the women are not in good job situations: Julia is stuck with what to do, and Julie is in a boring, white-collar job. As you may guess, both start to get some happiness from cooking: Julia becomes a chef, and Julie starts making Child’s dishes. There should be much, much more time spent on Julia Child than on Julie Powell, at least if the stories are going to be told the way they are, because whenever the movie jumps forward in time, there’s a lessening in the quality. Ephron seems to not care about stumbling into many clichés when delving into Powell, and she also doesn’t mind falling into suit among other mainstream romantic comedies on this front. It doesn’t help when Adams and Messina (whose performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” I said to be “one of the non-romantic joys of the film”) are lukewarm and stilted. The usage of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” in this part of the film is sad and lame. Plus, if the biggest laugh in your subdivision is from Dan Ackroyd's impression of Julia (yes, that's also in this movie, and what we get is not only him but the reactions of the two modern-day cookers, which provides for an awkward, tepid feeling), you know things are not going too well.

Another element I thought sorry was how under-nourished Streep’s performance was. I mean if she does get nominated for an Oscar, it would only be fair for Best Supporting Actress. She’s given not very much space and time with Ephron’s objective, every-scene-has-a-clear-purpose style to spin a good Child. In a feature-length biopic, she would shine brighter and clearer. Here, she’s bogged down by her counterpart.

Well, I don’t think my review is going to influence your choice of film. You’ll probably have decided whether or not you want to go. But if you’re on the fence, there are better films to see in terms of parallels (“Sita Sings the Blues”) and mainstream romantic comedies (“Duplicity”). When it comes to food films, this is only one in really wide circulation at the moment. I know there’s definitely an audience for it, and a big one at that. I’m not part of it, however. But there is something to be said for the fact that with choices like "Inglourious Basterds" and "Halloween II" available, this film gives off somewhat of a feeling of warmness and good intent. When I left packed theater, almost everyone was talking about dinner. This is how films are supposed to inspire, and I'm glad that "Julie & Julie," no matter how good I think it is, is at that plateau. C


Anonymous said...

It's Joezeph again. At least a C+ come on, the movie wasn't that bad.

Nick Duval said...

If it had been only Meryl Streep, it would have been good. But it was made pretty intolerable by Amy Adams and everything in that half.

Jozeph Dukö said...

I thought this movie was well done, sure Julie was not played, and especially not casted well, but I think the movie was good in a charming way.