JULIE & JULIA
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Meryl Streep, Amy
Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Director: Nora Ephron
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: December 8, 2009
“What is it you really like to do?”
After their Oscar-nominated explorations of depths in Doubt, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams find themselves in surprisingly shallow waters with Julie & Julia, an overly long exercise in pure tedium that plays with ingredients but never comes up with a recipe. Or a point.
It’s based on the same-titled book by the real Julie Powers, as well as Julia Child’s own memoirs, and it basically intercuts the stories of these two women, but doesn’t really serve as a biographical story for either. In fact, the focus on Ms. Child’s life is so narrow, we never even get to see when or how she got her start in television, which ushered in a whole new industry of cooking shows and even eventually made the Food Network possible.
For Julia Child (Streep), life is good. She gets to live in her dream city of Paris when her husband Paul (Tucci) takes a government post there. Bored, and passionate about food, she enrolls in Le Cordon Bleu, the internationally famed cooking academy, and eventually starts to compile a book of recipes with a pair of friends over the course of many years.
In modern times, Julie Powell (Adams) has just moved in to a tiny apartment above a pizzeria in Brooklyn with her husband Eric (Messina). She works as a call agent for the 9/11 monument project; a miserable job considering everyone who calls in either has a tragic story or is enraged by the government’s inability to make an iota of progress on it as year after year passes (yes, quick, let’s put these people in charge of our health care!).
Julie is a failed writer, but anyone can have a blog. So she turns her obsession with Julia Child and food into a web journal and a personal challenge…go through Julia’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, which averages out to slightly more than a recipe a day, and share her experiences.
Neither story is very intriguing, and both leading women spend most of the movie coming across as annoyingly self-absorbed while both leading men are reduced to longsuffering support staff. I don’t find it difficult to believe that Julia Child’s book became an all-time culinary bible, but if it weren’t true, I’d never understand how Julie Powell’s whining rants and self-centered escapades earned a following on the internet and eventually a book deal (and this film even has the nerve to say at the end that her book was made into a movie…well, no s**t, Sherlock!).
Ms. Streep and Ms. Adams are both unquestionably accomplished actresses, but neither really enhances her résumé with this movie. I suppose if Meryl’s performance borders on exaggerated parody, one could argue that’s because Julia Child in real life often bordered on parody. And I’ve loved Amy Adams tremendously ever since her breakout Oscar-nominated turn in Junebug, and before this movie, I would have thought she could have played Eva Braun and made the role enchanting. But not even her effervescent presence could elevate my feelings for Julie Powell above a constant frustrated annoyance.
Maybe I just don’t get the appeal of writer/director Nora Ephron. It’s not the so-called “chick flick” tag, a moniker I hate but a genre I usually love (Steel Magnolias, Sense and Sensibility, Twilight…all good in my book), but not even the universally loved Sleepless in Seattle left me feeling any sense of entertainment satisfaction.
A real movie about the life of Julia Child might be a worthy endeavor, but not this film, which takes the meat out of her story in order to make room for the story of someone we could care less about. This is not a savory meal, a light tempting snack, or even comfort food. It’s more like the unappetizing holiday casserole brought over by your crazy aunt that your mother forced you to eat for the sake of politeness.
Nora Ephron doesn’t do a whole lot with her Paris settings, which could have made this picture a wonderful high definition experience. As it is, it works nicely, with good detail but not much in the way of colors that really pop out of the screen. I didn’t notice much in the way of grain, and only a rare and occasional speck on the print here and there. Good overall, but with the right filming choices, could have been exemplary.
The movie is dialogue-oriented, so there’s not much demand required of the DTS HD soundtrack. I noticed very little in the way of rear channel or subwoofer usage, and dynamic range was somewhat minimal, but the spoken words were clean and clear throughout, and that’s pretty much all this film needed.
The disc starts with a commentary track from Nora Ephron and a making-of documentary, but then it gets into plenty of Blu-ray exclusives that focus more on Julia Child than the actual movie did. You can share in remembrances of her with her friends and family, tour her kitchen, and even take a lesson or two from her and other chefs. You can even use your internet connection to collect and share recipes while you watch the movie.
Julie & Julia is a book I’ve never read, but the fact that the author put her own name ahead of a culinary legend’s might be evidence enough about what a narcissistic endeavor it was. No wonder the real Julia Child apparently scoffed at Julie Powell’s blog. One can only imagine how she would have reacted had she lived to see this film…she probably would have spent most of it reaching for another glass of wine.