Saturday, January 30, 2010

"Bon Apetit!": Julie & Julia (2009)

I must first make a disclaimer that I am a straight male. I am also a cinephille, and will watch any movie, whether its amazingly brilliant or dreadfully terrible. Therefore, I have seen my share of romantic comedies or other "girl movies," and there have been some that I have liked.
I don't want to call any movie a "guy movie" or a "girl movie," because a movie is a movie, but I can't deny that Julie & Julia was definitely marketed toward women. Which is unfortunate, because it was not the romantic comedy that the advertisements made it appear to be; instead, it is a thoughtful, well-crafted portrait of two women who find an escape in food. You could argue female empowerment ensues, but it doesn't; Julie Powell and Julia Child don't delve into their respective projects because they want to make a feminist statement, but rather so that they can do what they love. For both of them, food is a gateway to their dreams.
The movie tells two stories: the first is of Julia Child, who, after working for the OSS with her husband in WWII, falls in love with France, joins the Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, and helps write the first French cookbook published in English. Meryl Streep plays Julia with a joie de vivre of a woman who is not one for letting things get in her way, and nails Julia's mannerisms and voice perfectly. Streep completely disappears into the role, which is her best since appearing as Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada (another "chick flick").
Is the resemblance not amazing?
The second story revolves around Julie Powell, a failed writer in contemporary New York who is now doing temp work. To keep herself from losing her mind, she decides to challenge herself: she will cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year, and write a blog about it. At first her blog recieves no attention (I can sympathize), but over time she becomes popular, leading to book deals (including the memoir on which the film is based). This is, of course, not without meltdowns along the way. Amy Adams is charming enough, but she isn't really given the best material to work with.
Which is my main complaint about the movie: only half of it rises above being merely decent. But this is no fault of writer/director Nora Ephron, who has proven herself plenty capable of crafting great female-targeted films such as When Harry Met Sally... and Sleepless in Seattle. It's simply that Julia Child is a more interesting subject than Julie Powell, and Streep's performance is much more captivating that the always-charming Adams' (honestly, I feel like rainbows are made whenever she smiles).

You feel happier now, don't you?
Julie & Julia does succeed, however, at essentially being porn for foodies. The dishes that are prepared and served are lavishly shot, with each exquisite fillet lovingly recieving a close-up so that you can see every detail. It's enough to make anyone extremely hungry by movies end, particularly for the kind of fine dining that I can't afford (I settled for potato chips).
Though there is plenty of love for Streep's performance, the unsung hero of the film is Stanley Tucci, who plays Julia's husband, Paul Child. In what is truly a supporting role, Tucci plays Paul as a man who is not only completely in love with his wife, but also completely supportive of her endeavors, no matter how unconventional they may be. Even when the threat of being moved out of France looms, Paul remains completely behind his wife, and Tucci knows better than to get in Streep's way, but also manages to keep some attention on himself by making sure that Julia is not ignored. It's a phenomenal performance from an always-reliable actor.
Overall, Julie & Julia provided an interesting look at two women facing the same dilemma, with one inspiring the other. Unfortunately, it only ended up being half-great, half-decent. My grade: B-

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