Monday, August 10, 2009

Movie Review: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia ***
Directed By: Nora Ephron.
Written By: Nora Ephron based on the books by Julie Powell and Julia Child.
Starring: Meryl Streep (Julia Child), Amy Adams (Julie Powell), Stanley Tucci (Paul Child), Chris Messina (Eric Powell), Linda Emond (Simone Beck), Helen Carey (Louisette Bertholle), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Sarah), Jane Lynch (Dorothy McWilliams).

Everyone knows who Julia Child is. She became an American icon during the 1960s for her cookbooks and her television show, teaching ordinary housewives how to cook. She was essentially Martha Stewart decades before Martha Stewart was. My guess is that most people have no idea who Julie Powell is. In the summer of 2002, she was an office drone, whose job essentially consisted of answering the phone and taking complaints from anyone who had an opinion on 9/11, and what they were planning on doing with Ground Zero. She is miserable, until she decides that what she needs to do is cook her way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, and record her experiences on her blog. She becomes a minor celebrity in her own right. The movie Julie and Julia tells both of their stories, when they are struggling to make their dreams come true.

If that sounds cheesy, well, that’s because the movie is a little cheesy. Yet it is also entertaining. It succeeds in not only telling one story, but separate ones, and tying them together in an interesting way. I know that many reviewers seem to enjoy Child’s story more than Powell’s, but I actually both equally entertaining. Meryl Streep does a wonderful job, not just impersonating Child - which she does do with aplomb and skill - but also making the icon into a real person who we care about. Stanley Tucci, who plays her beloved husband Paul, certainly helps. Their chemistry together makes this seem like a real couple. But Amy Adams may have the more difficult role as Julie Powell. Unlike Streep, she does not have the benefit of playing someone who everyone in the audience would recognize, but instead has to make us care about a character that on the surface is a little whiny and self involved. Chris Messina plays her husband Eric, and like Tucci does with Streep, he helps to humanize Powell, making her more sympathetic and human. We like Powell just as much as we like Child.

The performances are really the reason to watch the film. It was written and directed by Nora Ephron, who specializes in chick flicks like this. She is slightly more intelligent than most of the filmmakers who work in this genre. Instead of the typical formula where the lead actress (or in this case actresses) meet their husbands, and fall in love, this is a film about two women who are already in love and married when the movie opens. The film deals honestly with the reality of relationships - they are not always easy, but the couples get through it because they love and support each other, even if their spouse drives them crazy sometimes.

The film also has another going for it - the food. Here is a movie in which practically every scene in the film involves cooking of some sort, and the food looks amazing. This is not a movie that you see on an empty stomach. Instead, it is a film you see than go out with friends for a good meal afterwards. The healing power of food is something that this film certainly believes in - and makes you believe in it as well.

The film does have its problems, the biggest one being that the film is overlong. It has at least two endings too many. As the film winds down, I started to grow a little restless. From the beginning, we know how these two stories are going to end, and at a certain point, I got a little tired of waiting for the film to catch up to me.
But for a film as full of joy as this one is, it is a minor complaint. Here is a movie that makes you care about its characters, their trials and tribulations. We genuinely want to see things work out for both of the women in this film, and even though we know from the outset that they will, it is still a joyous feeling when both women get what they want. Julie and Julia may not be a great film, but it certainly is an entertaining one.

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