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5 reviews, 16 user ratings

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Julie & Julia
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by Erik Childress

"Half A Really Good Movie. Guess Which Half."
3 stars

My memories of Julia Child, apart from the classic SNL sketch with Dan Aykroyd, consist of early mornings over at my grandparents. Maybe it wasn’t even the morning, but that odd, calming voice coupled with pictures of delicious looking food was enough to make you feel that way. Never gave her much of a further thought after those days. Certainly never imagined a movie would ever be made about her life, let alone be portrayed by maybe the greatest actress ever to grace cinema. Julie Powell, on the other hand, never heard of her. No memories. Who is she? Oh, she’s the blogger that they’ve given half of Julia Child’s movie to? And she’s been given top billing? I certainly hope she’s interesting.

In 2002, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) was a 29 year-old New Yorker who spent her days answering phones for a government insurance agency. She walks by Ground Zero everyday and has to listen to the horrible stories of people being denied benefits while she laments to her husband, Eric (Chris Messina), that she’s never finished anything – like that half-a-book she started writing. While her friends are moving up in the corporate world, she decides to start a blog. “I have thoughts,” she says. Too bad most of them are Julia Child’s. For one year she will cook her way through Julia’s famous “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and write about it. Let’s move on.

Julia Child (Meryl Streep) was in her mid-thirties in 1948. She has just moved with her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) to Paris where he has taken a job with an American embassy. With little to do but eat, which she enjoys with a passion most of us would love to feel, Julia takes to culinary school, where an American woman with no experience naturally brings out the worst in French attitudes. Through persistence, Julia proves them all wrong and her inviting personality makes quick friends of Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey) whom she will soon collaborate in a seemingly unpublishable venture of introducing Americans to the wonders of French cuisine. The only thing Julia loves more than food (and especially butter) is Paul and their love story is established as one for the books. It’s just a shame that Powell’s book had to be one of them.

There are only a few reasons anyone would feel it necessary to split this story down the middle. The obvious parallels between the two women share the potential for either irony or happy coincidences. They both cook and were looking to spark their lives. Each has a loving, supporting husband. Either has worked for the government at one time. Julia has a disapproving dad. Julie has a disapproving mom. So what? It was more interesting and revealing when Casey Affleck’s Robert Ford rattled off a list of physical attributes between him and Brad Pitt’s Jesse James. Besides Julie being of little interest as a human being, let alone a writer of any depth, perhaps there was an inherit sense of ridicule that writer/director Nora Ephron was trying to hypothesize between the cultures and the times themselves. Heh, ridicule in a Nora Ephron film? Even Julia Child would raspberry that one.

As a writer herself and a woman in an even more cutthroat business, you would think that Ephron might shed off her usual goody-goody fantasies and stick one to Powell. Particularly when the knowledge of the infidelity she engaged in and used as a jumping off point to her follow-up project (about butchers of all things) kind of dulls all the complimentary sainthood she bestows upon her husband. Since the second half of Julia’s story is rooted within her struggles to get her book published through rejections, editing and title changes, where is the commentary on the bathroom wall of the internet where anyone with a computer can print anything they want on a personal template without interference and be deemed a writer? Where is Julie’s struggle other than occasionally overcooking or flooring a meal? What is her ultimate purpose other than to say that she did it? How is she any different from the dude on a mission to visit every Starbucks in America? It’s not like she’s going Morgan Spurlock on us and tearing down every calorie and cholesterol level for the benefit of a healthy nation. Julie keeps telling us she’s getting fat, but we don’t see Amy Adams turning into even Bridget Jones. Try squeezing Powell’s ass into Adams’ aviator pants from Night at the Museum 2 and we’ll shed a tear for you then.

Pointless and dragging as Powell’s half of the movie is though, the exact 180 is true with Streep inhabiting Julia’s thick skin. An impersonation as flawless as any biopic you’ve ever seen, Streep has us clamoring to be a part of Julia’s world. Full of enough life for the whole cast, Julia is a beacon of devil-may-care positivity that draws us in any time the film thankfully shifts back to her half of the story. To add insult to injury, it turns out that there’s plenty in the life of Julia Child to sustain her own biopic. The unsung hero in the film may very well be Stanley Tucci who on the surface is just Julia’s version of the supportive hubby. But read into Tucci’s quiet performance around Streep’s showier part and you can just how loving he really is. A beautiful dinner toast to his wife is a great written moment for him, but watch as he tries to curb his own worries around Julia so as not to upset the dream she’s pursuing. They are telling moments that almost forgive how blandly (and abruptly) Ephron handles a blacklisting subplot. Who wants to hear about that nonsense when we can watch Julie cook a stew. Twice.

The presence of Tucci brings forth memories of arguably the greatest of all food-based films, Big Night. In that film and others like the main courses of Eat Drink Man Woman or the desserts of Waitress, food was its own character; borderline dirty even in the luscious ways the camera made us yearn for their curvy delights. With an empty stomach going in, it was disheartening to leave with very little memory of the various dishes which are mostly discussed and given the occasional “yum” rather than seen. I didn’t even believe the “yums.” Heck, Munich had more respect for all the food in its film than Julie & Julia. When a direct connection is finally made between the two women in the present day story, Ephron has undercooked the moment since we’re not sure how to feel about it. Are we supposed to feel sorry for Julie and has Ephron just thrown Julia Child under the bus for her first moment of curmudgeonly behavior? All things being equal, Julia has the right attitude towards her wannabe doppelganger and her selfish vanity project courting the attention of commenters. If watching someone else play a video game is towards the bottom of unstimulating activity, then what do you call reading about someone cooking a meal from someone’s elses recipes widely available for the past four decades? Julia Child’s book - from which half the film was based on- was called “My Life In France.” It’s a real crime that the other half wasn’t based solely on her cookbook because as charming as Amy Adams can be, it’s the recipes and Streep’s performance that will live on.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 08/07/09 14:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: Traverse City Film Festival 2009 For more in the Traverse City Film Festival 2009 series, click here.

User Comments

4/18/18 Suzanne Meryl Streep IS Julia Child. She and Tucci are delightful. 4 stars
4/14/16 Katrina Weiss Possibly not as interesting if you don't enjoy cooking. 3 stars
9/09/11 Nancy Meryl Streep did a great job playing Julia Child. Loved the movie 5 stars
7/22/11 Annie G Much better than I expected. My husband liked it too 4 stars
2/28/11 RLan Watch and see how Meryl Streep channels Julia Child. 4 stars
8/04/10 the dork knight cooking: SERIOUS BUSINESS 3 stars
3/03/10 Richard Brandt Like a great meal, this movie can bring tears to your eyes 4 stars
1/22/10 Ruby P. I really liked this film. Meryl Streep did a good job. Funny and inspiring! 5 stars
1/11/10 KingNeutron The girlfriend and I both liked it. A charming movie. 4 stars
12/14/09 Micah The Julie half wasn't as self centered as What Happens in Vegas or Ugly Truth. 3 stars
12/04/09 Ashley This was a cute little film. Meryl and Amy were both fantastic in their roles. 4 stars
9/08/09 Marie M. An ingredient in the recipe of this movie is lacking. 4 stars
8/27/09 R. G. Ranade What everyone has said: Meryl Streep's great, Amy Adams isn't. 3 stars
8/18/09 R.W. Welch Better than you might think. Strong leads. 4 stars
8/15/09 Carole L. Glickfeld When a film is this entertaining, its flaws don't matter. 4 stars
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  07-Aug-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 08-Dec-2009


  DVD: 08-Dec-2009

Directed by
  Nora Ephron

Written by
  Nora Ephron

  Meryl Streep
  Amy Adams
  Stanley Tucci
  Chris Messina
  Jane Lynch
  Dave Annable
  Mary Lynn Rajskub

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