Julie and Julia: saucy!

update: The Fella picked up my review his weekly new-release column with Justin Ellis of the Portland Press Herald. You can read their full column here and here.

Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia (to be released on DVD next week) melds together two disparate tales: Julia Child’s posthumously published memoir of her culinary education, and Julie Powell’s blog-to-book account of a year cooking her way through Child’s encyclopaedic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, V. I & II (co-written with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle).

It should surprise no one that Meryl Streep was the choice to bring the larger-than-life Julia Child to the screen. Of all actors working today, only Streep could hone her voice and mannerisms to echo the unique rolling giggle, the highs and lows, the familiar and beloved songbird voice of Julia Child.

What is surprising: how marvelously Streep captures Child’s essence: the vim, the brio, the joie de vivre and jolly bravado that Julia Child brought to all her public enterprises… and how beautifully the film peeks into the vigor that she brought to private life, as well. Streep’s Julia Child embraces life with a cheeky, boisterous air and a sexy sauciness that extends beyond the kitchen. Rarely has the screen seen a couple as frankly and believably in love as Julia and Paul (Stanley Tucci), her dapper diplomat husband.

Indeed, the whole film is filled with canny casting choices. Watching Jane Lynch and Meryl Streep crowing and groaning and giggling together, you can easily believe them as sisters. Chris Messina plays Julie Powell’s loving but ill-treated husband, and he transforms the thankless doormat role into something both earnest and wryl.

Then there’s the biggest casting trick of all: Amy Adams as Julie Powell. Adams brings twinkle and cuteness to a part that is, frankly, pretty unsympathetic: Julie Powell’s writing voice is blankly self-involved, entitled, and whiny, simultaneously resentful of the task she had set herself and and ignorant of its depths. Amy Adams takes all those attributes and wraps them up into an almost lovable package of spunky determination and colorful failures, bringing a taste of sweetness and a bit of backbone to a shrill, unlikeable character.

4 thoughts on “Julie and Julia: saucy!

  1. I loved everything about this movie even, as you rightly point out, Julie’s whiny self-indulgence. But the dearest, truesest-ringing, most surprising, and supremely well-acted part was the demonstration of love between Julia and Paul. Had me sniffling through the whole thing.Naturally.

  2. Throughout the film, I wanted to whip hot hollandaise at Julie’s pinched-up little moue of irritation, but I admit that Amy Adams is one of the very few actresses who could make this character a bit sympathetic.

    Streep is just delightful: the body language, the voice, the bonhomie brimming over throughout the film. She’s clearly playing Julia as cultural touchstone, not Julia as biographical person, but it works. The chemistry and ease between Tucci and Streep makes the whole film work.

    I was not eagerly awaiting this; I never liked Powell’s blog, her voice, her persona, and I was a trifle disgusted that Julia Child’s memoir pic got tangled up with Powell’s blog-to-book. But The Fella brought home a preview copy in case I wanted to write a review.

    On watching, I was startled at how effectively the narrative faced Powell’s shallow and self-centered character*, only diffusing it a little with twinkle and charm. Frankly, I wasn’t sure Nora Ephron would know that this simpering, blabbering person was unlikeable.

    *There’s a great conversation an hour or so in: Julie Powell’s dear friend announces that she’s broken up with her boyfriend, and Powell’s response is [paraphrased] Oh, that’s awful, I didn’t even ask! I am self-centered! and then she’s off again talking about her own problems. Even as she agonizes over being self-absorbed and needy, she is demonstrating it. I just wanted to hit with a saucier.

  3. I’ll also point out that Roger Ebert, whose opinions I often find instructive even when I disagree, has a most ridiculous complaint to make about Julie and Julia:

    “Julie & Julia” is not lacking in entertainment value, especially with the Streep performance. But if the men had been portrayed as more high-spirited, it might have taken on intriguing dimensions. Both husbands are, frankly, a little boring: They’ve been assigned their supporting roles in their marriages and are reluctant to question the singlemindedness of their wives.

    Dude. If this were a film about two male chefs (or, more accurately, a male chef and a male blogger chef-wannabe), and their wives merely stood around in the background making encouraging noises, no one would blink, because female character as male support network is simply business as usual in Hollywood movies.

    Indeed, this may be part of what I found so inviting about Julie and Julia: it is such a relief to see two female characters simply following their passions. Though both characters face uniquely female hurdles (especially Child), the film treats them as full, well-rounded humans.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s