A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 149 – Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia – July 27th, 2010

I have extremely fond memories of Julia Child from my childhood. My parents both love to cook and were always in the kitchen. Cooking shows were regular viewing in my house. Julia Child and Jeff Smith come immediately to mind, though my mother informs me now that she wasn’t too fond of Jeff Smith, he was my father’s choice. You see, I’m spending the night at my parents’ summer house and I watched this with them both tonight. I wish we could all have watched it with Andy too, but work makes things like that so difficult! I admit, my review might well be colored by my parents’ reactions to the movie. They loved it, by the way.

The book this movie is based on enjoyed a good deal of fame when this movie came out and it passed across my desk more times than I could count. Eventually a copy came through and it didn’t need to immediately head out to someone else, so I grabbed it and read it on my breaks over the next couple of days. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it as much as I did (overhype), but finding out that Julie Powell not only made references to mutant powers, but also expressed a rather hilariously dirty sense of humor immediately endeared her to me. Unfortunately, a lot of what made Julie’s voice in the book so fantastic was lost in the movie. It’s a pity, because there are glimpses of it in the Julie portions, but then, it was also unavoidable given the way the movie was put together, with half of it being given over to the story of Julia Child moving to Paris with her husband, falling in love with French food, and eventually writing a French cookbook for Americans with two of her friends there.

Through the expanded role of Julia Child’s life there’s an effort to make Julie’s life and Julia’s life mirror each other a bit, with the rises and falls moving somewhat in sync. Of course it isn’t perfect. It’s contrived. But as a movie contrivance it works okay. The only real problem with it is that, well, in the presentation of the movie, Julia’s life is simply so much more exciting than Julie’s. Let’s face it, no matter how much fun it is to watch Julie melt down over her ruined stew and floor-chicken, it’s far more fun to watch Julia experiment with making a foolproof mayonnaise. And it’s not just a matter of attitude. While Julie’s frustrated at her cubicle job, Julia’s frustrated at being stuck learning how to make hats. While Julie hates her crummy Queens apartment, Julia hates being forced to leave Paris and eventually move to Oslo. How can an ordinary woman with an ordinary life compare? Even if she is embarking on a somewhat epic quest to cook everything in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

What all this eventually does is make Julia the focus of the movie, not Julie, which changes things from the book quite a bit. Like I said, it’s unfortunate. Mostly for Julie. Sure, she has her moments in the movie, some of which are pure acting and some of which are aided by the soundtrack, like The Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ during the lobster-murdering scene. Amy Adams does a good job with what she’s given, some of which is very cute indeed. She’s a lot cutesier than I imagined Julie being (Julie in the book is a good bit drier and not so much with the adorableness), but that’s clearly how the part was constructed. Julia, on the other hand, is, well, Julia. It was hard to remember I was watching Meryl Streep playing a role, to be honest. She had everything down, from Julia’s voice and intonation to her posture and mannerisms.

So in the end, the stories mesh well, and I have no complaints whatsoever about any of the acting. It’s a fantastically fun movie and well worth watching for Julia alone, but I can’t discount Julie. Watching it with my parents, who enjoyed it so very much, I decided to take an open-minded view of Julie’s role in the movie. Instead of looking for her as the starring role, I viewed her as how Julia is in Julie’s book: As chapter introductions and accents, bits and pieces to highlight the story the viewer/reader is focusing on. That might not be what was intended, but I think it works well that way.

July 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Julie & Julia

July 27, 2010

Julie & Julia

Amanda and I had intended to watch this movie together with her mother. Last Christmas we bought her a copy of the movie on DVD, and so did Amanda’s father. It’s just so clearly the perfect movie to watch with one’s mother-in-law. Especially with my mother-in-law; a woman who instilled in my wife a love both of public television and of fine cooking. Sadly, I’m not watching this with them. Amanda is away for the night, watching Julie & Julia with her mother, and I am watching the movie alone.

I’m finding it a slightly meta experience to blog about watching a movie that is in part about a blogger. Not that I really think of myself as a “blogger” but there’s no denying that for the past three months my wife and I have been posting a movie review every day. It’s not who we are, but it’s something we enjoy doing. Early on in the movie they briefly show a “days left” counter on Julie’s blog and I instantly thought to myself “Hey! I have one of those!”

I love the fairy tales of Nora Ephron. Even when they are based on true stories (well in this case on two true stories according to the subtitle at the start of the film) they have an otherworldly charm. I am definitely not the target audience but I enjoy them nonetheless. Nora has a knack for creating these very human characters on the screen that people can’t help but love. (I look forward to our “baseball week” when we’ll be reviewing A League of Their Own.) I did, however, find her storytelling a little heavy handed tonight.

In the modern-day segments of the movie Nora uses song lyrics in a couple places to reinforce the emotional impact she’s trying to make, and on some occasions it threw me right out of the movie. Particularly when Julie and her husband are going through a rough patch and the scene is accompanied by the song Stop the Train with the lyrics “don’t throw this away.” I expect to be emotionally manipulated by a Nora Ephron movie (like watching a Stephen Spielberg movie.) I just don’t expect it to be so blatant.

Maybe it’s symptomatic of the main problem that the whole movie struggles with, which is that it’s actually two movies. There’s the story of Julie Powell writing her food blog and cooking all of Julia’s recepies, and there’s the much more griping story of Julia Child and her struggle to publish her magnum opus on French cooking for Americans. A lot of effort has been done to show parallels between the two stories, and they’re inter-cut in such a way that dialog from a scene in one time period often relates to what happens in a scene in the other time period (there’s even a sort of “joy of cooking” montage that tries to drive this idea home) but I couldn’t help feeling that the Julie Powell parts of the movie paled in comparison to the Julia Child parts.

I don’t blame Amy Adams.and her portrayal of Julie Powell. She just didn’t have enough to work with to bring her half of the movie to the level of the other half. The deck is very much stacked against her. Maryl Streep’s sections of the movie are lavish, lush period pieces with exotic locales in Paris. Julia Child as a character is so compelling and vibrant, especially as embodied by Meryl Streep – who is so magnetic and alive in her portrayal that she’s a joy to watch, that nobody could really hope to live up to that standard. Julie’s life by comparison is so mundane and drab that when her life is being portrayed on the screen I couldn’t wait for her segments to end so we could get back to Julia. Indeed I found as I was watching and writing this review I was doing most of my writing during the modern day parts of the movie and watching in rapt attention during the flashback parts.

So, yeah, it’s an uneven movie and not Nora Ephron’s best work. But the parts I liked, being pretty much any time that Meryl Streep was lighting up the screen, were wonderful to watch. I rather wish that I had been watching it with my wife and mother-in-law, because I know exactly what parts they would have been laughing the hardest at, and I would have enjoyed sharing that. And now I’m off to my drab modern-day kitchen to see if there’s anything remotely edible in it.

July 27, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment