Director: Nora Ephron Notable Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Jane Lynch
A comedy for women that isn’t about romantic relationships is an infrequent occurrence. Romantic comedies, it would seem, have become a comfort fix; a savory piece of celluloid chocolate that allows women to escape their problems in easy to digest ninety-minute intervals. In a year that has seen one “Finding Mr. Right” cookie-cutter comedy after another, a change of pace is welcomed. Julie & Julia is a light comedy with a gimmick that observes two stories of bored wives, Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams). Though there’s a separation of eras between the two stories, both women share the unique kinship of food. Child loves French cuisine, and finds as much enjoyment in shopping for fish as shopping for a dress. Powell, whose day job as a government cubicle drone sees her deflated by quitting time, finds solace in cooking. And her cookbook to live by just so happens to be Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
A year ago, Streep and Adams shared the screen as nuns in Doubt. The Oscar-nominated drama was ambiguous in its allegations between an adult and a child yet still emotionally draining. Nora Ephron’s comedy fails to strike an emotional chord between the female leads. Julie and Julia never meet, and we are left with a film of two halves. The more interesting half is the acting class Meryl Streep puts on as Julia Child. She matches the famed cook with the signature pearl necklace apron for apron in her interpretation. Her mannerisms aim to entertain and they usually do. Unfortunately for Adams, she has a thankless role of a woman whose life is a series of ups and downs. In food terms, she is to meatloaf as Child is to Boeuf Bourguignon.
At the time of Julia’s introduction the year is 1949. She and her husband Paul Child (Stanley Tucci), a diplomat for the American Embassy, are living in Paris enjoying marital bliss. Both are upbeat living abroad, and Julia’s personality comes to life with one small bite of French cuisine. The way she savors the bite shows a passion for eating. With a little prodding by husband Paul, Julia begins to show an interest in cooking.
Flash to 2002 and Julie Powell. She’s about to turn thirty but her exhausting job as a cubicle bureaucrat gives her the appearance of forty. During a restaurant scene that sees Julie engaged in a lunch date with college girlfriends, there’s a scent of bitchiness in the air. Each friend gloats about her current career – from writing for an upscale publication to brokering multi-million dollar development deals. When the cell phones open up Julie is helpless. A blank gaze takes over as she wonders to herself “how did I get here?”
Then the story moves back and forth between the two women. We see how Julia Child rises through the ranks of the Cordon Bleu cooking school. As the first American woman to study at the revered school, she quickly abhors remedial cooking and the woman who teaches it; she advances to the mastery level only to find herself the lone female in a kitchen of men. Never backing down from a challenge, Child uses her tall figure and upbeat demeanor to her advantage, ultimately egg-whisking her way into culinary history.
Julie Powell wants to redefine her life. Everything about it is so compartmentalized that the only time she’s free is when she cooks. So she decides to write an online blog dedicated to Child’s best-selling cookbook. Julie’s goal is to make 524 recipes in 365 days. Each culinary delight (or disaster) would be posted online for the world to read. Husband Eric (Chris Messina) encourages her cooking and blogging much in the same way that Paul encouraged Julia to be a cook.
Nora Ephron, who has managed parallel stories in past features like Sleepless in Seattle, based Julie & Julia on two memoirs about the world-renowned cook and the woman she inspired: My Life in France (written by Child and grandnephew Alex Prud’homme) and Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (by Powell).
However, the crosscutting between stories doesn’t hit the right stride. And this lack of harmony between the scenes makes for a frustrating viewing experience. It’s as if Ephron was trying out a new recipe and wanted the stories to melt together into one, like a stick of butter in a frying pan. While butter makes almost any meal better, here the culinary comedy experiment has disastrous results. The biggest being its running time and the third act.
Amy Adams has the misfortune of headlining the lesser of the two stories. And her part could be best described as a more uppity characterization of the woman she played in Junebug, though not quite as upbeat. So she’s frumpy and has a series of meltdowns, including one that involves arguing with the husband who had encouraged her from the start. He created a cooking Frankenstein and she turns on him and his saintly behavior. As opposed to Paul who is always supportive of wife Julia, and is always optimistic of the direction cooking will take her.
There’s a great movie waiting to be found in Julie & Julia. The comedy is a two-hour balancing act of great food, blogging, histrionics, with a slice of biopic as the garnish. Meryl Streep simmers in her portrayal as the famed cook – though lacks the intrinsic backbone that made Julia Child Julia Child – and helps to elevate what remains a most blasé comedy that’s overstuffed with the minutiae of its two female stars.
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!