Friday, August 7, 2009

Movie Review: Julie & Julia

After days of errands and gardening, I was due for a break. Today I met a friend at the mall and we went and saw the new movie, Julie & Julia, together. Amy Adams (Enchanted) plays unfulfilled cubicle worker Julie Powell, who decides to cook and blog her way through 500+ recipes in Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Meryl Streep plays the iconic TV chef who paved the way for all the Nigella Lawsons and Rachel Rays who followed.

Although the 2 women never meet, they lead somewhat parallel lives decades apart. Both former government workers, both happily married but childless, both using cooking as a way to fill life's voids.

The main differences are that Julie has Julia's cookbook to use as a tool and doesn't come off quite as likable as Julia. That lack of likability really isn't Amy Adam's fault as an actress. I just felt that the audience was never given a reason to invest in her character. OK, her job kind of bit, but other than that, I didn't understand why she was so unhappy. Instead of counting her blessings, she focused on everything that was wrong with her life. I guess she should be heralded for finally being proactive about doing something fulfilling, but she whines her way through the journey so much, that by the time things start looking up, you just don't care.

Meryl Streep was probably the best choice to play Julia Child, not only for her looks, but for her ability to adapt a character's voice and mannerisms. And, boy, Julia Child's voice is unforgettable. The character comes across slightly over the top because Julia Child was somewhat over the top in real life. Also, because Child was 6 feet tall, there were obvious adjustments that were made to create that height in Meryl Streep, like low ceilings, shorter supporting characters, and even the proportions of things in her kitchens. At times she looked positively Amazonic, and it was like watching Hagrid the giant's mother (from Harry Potter) cooking dinner.

So how did the director want us to feel about these two women? I'm not sure. I found myself slightly annoyed with both of them by the end of the movie. Although things were probably intensified for entertainment's sake, their culinary journeys come across as narcissistic at best. They don't feel heroic or interested in anything or anyone but their ultimate goals: for Julia, writing a book about French cooking for Americans, and Julie, cooking her way through the book. And the more whiny Julie gets, the more you try to tap all the likability out of Julia, who, unfortunately, disappoints the audience towards the end of the movie.

Thank goodness for the 2 supportive and saintly husbands--Stanley Tucci as Paul Child (he and Meryl Streep seemed oddly mismatched after she played his controlling boss in The Devil Wears Prada) and Chris Messina as Eric Powell (how he put up with his wife's constant meltdowns I'll never know.) But again, when the most likable characters are the supporting characters, there is something wrong.

Overall, it was "cute," but not something I need to see again or own. I'd be curious to hear what other people think.

2.5 out of 4 stars, at best.

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