Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: Julie & Julia

TOBY: I was raised on Sesame Street. I was raised on Julia Child. I was raised on Brideshead Revisited. Their legacies are safe in my hands.

[C.J. is standing in the doorway, giggling]

TOBY: You've got a problem?

C.J.: You watched cooking shows?

TOBY: I watched Miss Julia Child.
Let me start right out front and say that I think Meryl Streep is very possibly the Best. Actress. Ever. I recognize serious competition from the person who has occupied the spot of Best. Actress. Ever. for most of my life, that being Katharine Hepburn, whom I also love.

So, Julie & Julia is amazing. Meryl Streep is amazing. Part of what makes Streep so amazing, aside from how she got the role of Child in the first place, is how she - a 5 foot, 6 inch woman - fills the space of a 6 foot 3 inch woman. Part of that is, of course, movie magic. But part of it is just being that good of an actress.

I did enjoy the Julia Child parts of Julie & Julia more than the Julie Powell parts of the film. That isn't because the 'Julie' part is weak. It is that the Julia Child part is just that wonderful. Part of this is because Child, even before she was synonymous with French Cooking, is so much larger than life. And with Streep portraying her, she practically explodes off of the screen itself. When she bursts into her French Cooking class with a glee filled, Bonjour, when she is on screen at all, the atmosphere of the movie theater is altered. A regular person, Julie Powell for instance, can't hope to compete with that force of nature. She does try, though. And her portion of the film is amply wonderful, even if I would almost have preferred if Nora Ephron had made two films, companion pieces, to create these women instead of smushing them into one.

One of the reasons I loved the Julia Child sections and only liked the Julie Powell sections were because of the relationships the two women had with their respective husbands. Julia and Paul (played deftly by Stanley Tucci) were so many things, and fun was a big part of that. They joked, they seemed to genuinely bask in each other's company, they were at ease together, and their sex life was readily apparent if not explicitly portrayed. In comparison, Julie and Eric don't seem to share the same joy in each other. There are certain scenes where they do. Eric's rendition of "Psycho Killer", substituting "Lobster Killer" is one such scene. It comes in waves and patches, but it isn't a pervasive presence as it is for Julia and Paul. That doesn't make their relationship off or wrong or bad; it just means that it may have been better if their more subdued relationship had a larger degree of separation from the Childs' exuberant one.

That being said, I do see the appeal in combining the two. It makes Julie's obsession and admiration of Julia Child much more palatable if we are shown what is to obsess and admire about Child herself. If all the audience had to go on were the clips of Child's shows and Dan Aykroyd's Saturday Night Live sketch and the factual snippets Powell mentions throughout the course of the film, Child would probably remain outside of the viewer's grasp. And in contrasting Child's own struggles in creating and publishing Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Powell's struggle to get through all 524 recipes contained within the cooking tome, it becomes apparent that a person doesn't have to be larger than life, to be extraordinary, in order to be worthwhile of admiration and focus. Because while Julie Powell is, more or less, ordinary, while Powell doesn't have the same spark, the same fearlessness, the same wonderment of her idol, she has still done something incredible. She has still done something with her life, and created enjoyment for all of those who followed her along her journey in real time as well as those of us who are only now aware of her feat.

Now, though, I've got to get some books about Julia Child. And maybe pick up Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.

Grade: A

1 comment:

MediaMaven said...

I thought this was the perfect mother/daughter movie, but my mom had no interest in seeing it. Sad.

Your review echoes many that I have read. My favorite line was from The Times: "If only Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep were in every movie."

I hope to see it at some point.