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Movie Review: Julie & Julia

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Over the years film genres get reduced to their cliches, making each new film to arrive not terribly dissimilar to the ones that immediately preceding it. The most notable genres to fall prey to this are horror and the romantic comedy. Not too far behind those genres is the biopic. Yes, that's right. These people's lives are boiled down to the bare essence and the problem is that so many of these boiled down lives have very similar paths; just watch Ray and Walk the Line and you will see what I mean.

Filmmakers sometimes step outside the box and take an alternate route into these people's lives. One route is the avant-garde path taken for the Bob Dylan biopic I'm Not There. Another way is to do what Nora Ephron did with Julie & Julia, which was to bring two people's connected lives together, focusing on a specific portion of their respective lives. It is a different take that pays off.

Julie & Julia was adapted (from the book by Julie Powell) and directed by Nora Ephron. The filmmaker, who normally resides in the romantic comedy (having made her touchstone with Sleepless in Seattle) has stepped into the biopic genre and crafted a fine film. It is not a great film; it is not a terribly in-depth film, but it is definitely a crowd pleasing film — and one that keeps its focus squarely on the two primary subjects. The film never wavers from the two women. To that end, the surrounding characters are more small role players than full fledged characters. Had Julie and Julia's writing been more well rounded, the film might  have been more interesting, but I suspect it would be at the expense being a crowd pleaser.

The story begins with Julie Powell (Amy Adams). She is happily married, but living an unhappy life in an apartment over a pizza place: working in a cubicle and taking calls about insurance claims related to 9/11, while watching her friends' careers go nowhere but up. Despite the loving support of her husband Eric (Chris Messina), Julie feels lost, never completing the novel she's been working on, and feeling like a failure. Then inspiration strikes and she decides to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking: all 524 recipes in 365 days. She would proceed on this quest and document each step in a blog.

Intercut with Julie's project, we get to see Julia Child (Meryl Streep) living in Paris and the events that shaped her life and lead to a revolution in American cuisine. Julia and her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), moved to Paris when Paul was transferred there to work at the Embassy. Julia struggled to find something to do. She felt adrift in the world, complaining that women there do not do anything. She tries hat making and bridge, but she really loves to eat, so she enrolls at a prestigious cooking school where she proves to be a prodigy. She is eventually asked to contribute to the book that would become Julie Powell's guide to self-actualization.

The movie is interesting, showing how the two women's lives parallel each other. Granted, they are both doing things for different reasons and to different ends, but we pick them both up at a critical points in their respective lives; they are both women in search of a purpose. While it is interesting to watch them discover themselves through a period of tests that tax themselves and their relationships, this movie is more about entertainment than any sort of genuine self-discovery. At least that is what I got out of it.

The performances from both Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are both very good. Meryl Streep is fearless. When she takes a role, she becomes fully invested in it, disappearing into it if you will. The last time I saw her was in Doubt, where she was rather frightening; as Julia Child, Streep exudes warmth, purpose, and sheer happiness. It is quite the difference. Amy Adams, on the other hand, does not have a mean bone in her body, although her performance here sees her somewhat inward-focused (to the point that her marriage is mildly threatened), she portrays Julie as a woman impossible to stay mad at.

The husbands, Chris Messina and Stanley Tucci, are nice guys — nice to a fault. They play an important role in supporting their wives, but come across more as props than people. They are there to merely support and encourage their significant others. I wonder what it would have been like if their characters had been more fully rounded?

Nora Ephron did a fine job giving the film a light touch; It is very easy to get swept up in the women's journeys. Julie and Julia is fun, funny, sweet, and did I say fun? The movie never slows down, all of the fat has been cut leaving a pure confectionery treat. The only real issue I had was with the ending; it just sort of stops. I am not sure how it should have ended, but it felt a bit sudden.

Bottomline. I was not sure I'd like this, although it is hard to go wrong with the two leads. I went in hoping to have a good time and I did. This movie will put a smile on your face and a rumble in your belly.

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  • Derke Fleek

    Not on my list of movies to see, but you make me actually think about renting this one. Great review!

  • http://thingsalongtheway.blogspot.com/ Cindy

    Good article. I just saw this and it was wonderful and brilliant. Very well-done. One of my favorites of 2009.