Julie & Julia is an unpretentious film that outshines the more expensive and flashier summer films this year, much like Julia Child was a far brighter star than the more obnoxious chefs of her day.
To be honest, any film which features Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in prominent roles is bound to be entertaining, at the very least. When paired together, their skill in bringing the audience into a different world is unparalleled. They are the acting version of Mantle and Maris, and their performances in Julie & Julia are perhaps the best I’ve seen this year.
Julie & Julia tells the parallel story of Julia Child (one of the pioneers of American cuisine and television cooking shows) and Julie Powell, a woman who started a blog about her attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s cook book. Julia Child is played masterfully by Meryl Streep (Postcards From the Edge, Kramer vs. Kramer). Meryl Streep creates an amazing link between the audience and Julia Child, who is often seen as a comical character on television. Those Americans who are too young to have seen the progression of television cooking shows may not be able to appreciate how much of a pioneer Julia Child was. Julie & Julia goes a long way towards enlightening the audience as to her accomplishments, and the struggles she endured in attempting to become a national icon.
In Julie & Julia, Amy Adams (Enchanted, Doubt) plays Julie Powell, a once promising writer who has fallen on more than hard times. It seems Ms. Powell’s friends have far surpassed her accomplishments, and their lunch scene together clearly demonstrates her overwhelming sense of failure. Amy Adams plays the neurotic, unconfident Julie Powell with a great mixture of transparency and vulnerability. Playing a role opposite Meryl Streep without having the benefit of watching her performance is a challenge few actresses would be up to, but Amy Adams’s performance holds up nicely under the pressure.
Julie & Julia bounces back and forth between the McCarthy Era in which Julia and Paul Child lived in Europe and the early 2000’s in New York City where Julie Powell and her husband live in a small Queens apartment. Director Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, Bewitched) cuts back and forth between the two stories seamlessly. It seems trying to tie these two stories together, as two lives separated by fifty years could be a disaster waiting to happen within the context of a film. However, the scene changes, the editing and the overall product made for a delightful film and more than worth the price of admission.
As Julie & Julia progresses, we learn how passionately Julia Child and her husband Paul Child (played amazingly by Stanley Tucci) loved each other. Stanley Tucci (The Terminal, Road to Perdition) gives a performance that not only is wonderful in itself, but gives the story and the life of Julia Child a great deal of texture. Mr. Child’s career as a European diplomat and his job in Paris is apparently what begins Julia Child’s love affair with food and cooking.
Julia Child’s great quest in life was to bring the refined French cuisine she adored to the average American who could not afford the staff of a wealthy aristocrat. It seems that before Julia Child, there were few, if any, French cookbooks translated into English. Julia Child saw this as more than just a challenge, but a personal mission to bring the refined French culinary masterpieces she enjoyed in Paris to New York City, Boston and even Arkansas.
Julie & Julia really has no holes or flaws. The actor who plays Julie Powell’s husband, Chris Messina (Away We Go, Made of Honor), often seems like he is in a role written for someone else. Still, he carries his performance well enough and allows Amy Adams to shine in the role of a clueless writer trying to make her mark in the world.
Few outside observers would think of Julia Child’s rise to popularity as a story of triumph, but in the end she seems to have overcome far more obstacles than anyone would have guessed. Her husband almost got caught up in the blacklisting of the McCarthy Era, and few American publishers understood what she was trying to accomplish. Julie Powell’s story is also a great triumph, one where she stayed true to her own style and conviction.
Summer movies are usually made up of multi-million dollar comedies, two hundred million dollar explosions and indie movies trying to fill in the gaps. This summer, Julie & Julia is a film that is as simple and exquisite as one of Julia Child’s delicious recipes. I would recommend that anyone needing to see a film that makes the world seem a bit brighter, go see Julie & Julia.
Julie & Julia
Rated PG-13. Runtime 123 min. Theatrical release 8/7/2009.
PR.com Rating: A