Julie & Julia
Nora Ephron, USA 2009
Viewed on 35mm, Aug. 16
I feel like I need to address Julie & Julia in reverse, so, let’s take Julia first.
The film is composed of two narratives, and one of them concerns the development of Julia Child’s surprising career as an advocate for French cooking in the US. I’d read that this was the best part, but I really didn’t expect it to be so strong. Julia Child, as she’s shown here, is a really fascinating personality, hilarious to listen to (not always intentionally, I think), but also warm-hearted, fully-realized, determined, and, well, spunky. And somehow, Meryl Streep manages to pull all that off almost flawlessly. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a believer in the cult of Streep; rather, I’ve just grudgingly acknowledged her talent. This movie changed that, and I appreciate it just for that.
And then we have Julie, more specifically Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a young bureaucratic phone-answerer who decides to blog her way through Child’s entire cookbook. Julie seems nice enough, but there’s nothing really about her that makes her worth watching for an entire hour! It’s not as if, were I continue to blog about Firefly, I would think that it would be a good idea to one day make a Joss Whedon autobiographical film in which I was given equal prominence with Whedon himself! Yet that’s what’s happened here; a Julia Child fangirl is inexplicably places on the same level with Child herself, and at no point is Nora Ephron able to convince us that this is a good idea.
If Julie just bored me at the beginning, she started to make me resent her by the time the film was over. To be fair, Julie is presented as a realistically-flawed individual, but despite some seemingly fatal details that threaten to undercut her project, everything about how she is portrayed is meant to convince us that, overall, her endeavor is a heroic and utterly worthwhile. There’s no question that Julie is inordinately less compelling than Julia Child, and that her journey is much more trivial than hers as well.
I do want to note that no blame should go to Amy Adams for this; she’s a great actor who does the best that she can with a hopeless character. My friend remarked that Ephron seemed to be wishing she could have the young Meg Ryan back, but I doubt that that would have made all that much difference, had it been possible.
The sad part is that the film was not unsalvageable; had Julie’s part of the proceedings been cut to, say, a quarter of the film or less, her story could have been a solid framing narrative for the meatier course of Child’s experiences. I understand why Julie Powell was able to convince herself that she was worth reading (she got a book deal, after all), but I don’t know what convinced Ephron, or the studio, to see it that way. As it is, I’ve never before seen a film that married such a strong narrative to such a weak one.