Film | Nathaniel Rogers

Movies: Julie & Julia. "It's Like Buttah"

Streep_juliachild

Guestblogger NATHANIEL ROGERS Nathaniel Rogers would live inside a movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience.


Review

If you generally catch dinner after your weekend movie, rethink the order before catching
JULIE & JULIA. It'll help you passively enjoy this foodie's dream movie rather than drooling on it actively. Though the movie shares its title with Julie Powell's blog-turned-novel "Julie & Julia" which chronicled her attempt to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the narrative is doubled. The movie version also includes the origin story of Julia Child as she journeyed from culinary student to famous chef. The parallels between Powell (Amy Adams) and Child (Meryl Streep) are broadly and pleasurably drawn by the movie: two restless women with devoted, patient husbands, find self-fulfillment through cooking. And cooking. And cooking some more. I suspect the double stuffed film will be easiest to enjoy while leisurely digesting.

If there's a missing ingredient in the movie's fun recipe, it's dramatic conflict...

MORE, AFTER THE JUMP...

Messina_julia Julia Child's legend-making book Mastering the Art of French Cooking was locked up in development, rewrites and publishers' cold feet for years. Unfortunately, waiting isn't an action verb so much as a repetitive state of inaction. Julia Powell's miniature parallel story also involves self doubt and lots of writing. (Filmmakers have been trying to dramatize writing since the movies began and they still haven't cracked that inert nut -- writing is not exciting to watch.)

To find room for Julia Child's endearing tale, Powell's popular blog-turned-novel is robbed of some of its idiosyncratic spice. (Notably missing: the author's David Straitharn, Buffy the Vampire and gimlet obsessions. We relate to all three.) Consequently half of the movie falls a bit flat. Attempts to punch up the drama in Julie's half of the picture are either nuisances (her bitchy friends seemed to have arrived straight from the set of a wholly inferior chick flick)  or well meaning stand-ins for real tension. When Julie's husband, adorable everyman Chris Messina (Vicky Cristina Barcelona), becomes understandably infuriated with her self-absorbed obsessive project, you know he'll come around again in the next scene. He's too perfect a husband, and too parallel to Child's own eternally patient husband (wonderfully played by Stanley Tucci), for you to fear that he'd ever abandon her.

Picture 24 For all of that, complaining about the lack of appetizing drama undersells the simpler sensual side dishes that the movie has plenty of: endearing performances, terrific cameos (Jane Lynch is always welcome), colorful scenes, giddy comic notes, and of course the abundant food. Child's culinary creations and Powell's obsessive copies are beautifully photographed throughout. I ate immediately before the movie and was still hungry for most of the next 123 minutes.

You won't be surprised to hear that the main course is Meryl Streep as Julia Child. The twin joy of watching Julia Child's contagious love of food served up by Meryl Streep's contagious love of acting should not be underestimated. Julia Child closed each of her cooking shows with a simple "Bon Appetit." It could just as easily be an introductory catchphrase to any of Streep's gourmet performances.

Bonus Scene

Julie & Julia is bound to be Meryl's third summer smash in just four years. Since it will also usher in another round of speculation about just when Meryl will win that surprisingly elusive third Oscar, I thought I'd share a video I made in June celebrating her career. Though several legendary actresses have had late-in-life final hurrahs, we've never had a movie goddess this bankable, beloved and still prolific at 60 years of age.

She really is a national treasure. Her face should be carved into a mountain or placed on legal tender. At the very least let's get her a postage stamp already.

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Comments

  1. Sounds like a crowdpleaser. Thank goodness for Meryl Streep! I'm actually looking forward to this one, Chris Messina is actually an actor I'm becoming more and more intrigued by. He's such a cutie :)

    Posted by: Wayne B. | Aug 6, 2009 6:06:09 PM


  2. This movie is like a seven-course meal for copy writers. They are practically boiling over with cooking puns.

    Posted by: crispy | Aug 6, 2009 6:12:19 PM


  3. Hmmm. Well, it wouldn't quite fit in this script, apparently, but not ALL of Julia's tale was "endearing," as reported by JoeMyGod:

    From a 2007 Boston Magazine article:
    Homophobia was a socially acceptable form of bigotry in midcentury America, and Julia and Paul participated without shame for many years. She often used the term pedal or pedalo—French slang for a homosexual—draping it with condescension, pity, and disapproval. “I had my hair permanented at E. Arden’s, using the same pedalo I had before (I wish all the men in OUR profession in the USA were not pedals!),” she wrote to Simca. Fashion designers were “that little bunch of Pansies,” a cooking school was “a nest of homovipers,” a Boston dinner party was “peopled by 3 fags in an expensive house…. We felt hopelessly square and left when decently possible,” and San Francisco was beautiful but full of pedals—“It appears that SF is their favorite city! I’m tired of them, talented though they are.”

    Although the article notes that Child appeared to have softened in her later years and spoke sympathetically at an AIDS fundraiser in 1988, the lawsuit that came a few years later tells us that perhaps she didn't change that much. Many excuse Child's attitudes as typical for her day, but one has to wonder how someone could maintain a decades-long homophobic posture in a gay-heavy environment like professional cooking."

    Wonder what she called at least equally revered chef James Beard behind HIS back given that he was kicked out of the Army for being a "pedalo."

    Posted by: Michael @ LeonardMatlovich.com | Aug 6, 2009 6:15:50 PM


  4. I remember in the 80's, the critics--except Pauline Kael--were ALL Meryl ALL the time. (Katharine Hepburn was a notable talent who didn't like Streep's acting--"Click, click, click," she commented, apparently referring to Streep's choices being too calculated.) Over the past 10 years, however, as she's eased off some of the Oscar-bait roles and accents, she's really grown on me, and there's no one more charming or wryly funny in interviews. I still prefer more instinctual actresses like Michelle Pfeiffer and Jessica Lange, but I have to admit, there's no one like Streep--she's one of a kind. Bless her.

    Posted by: Dback | Aug 6, 2009 6:38:32 PM


  5. i've heard a lot of good stuff about this movie but i'm still approaching it very cautiously mainly because norah ephron sucks like hoover.

    a friend of mine who's seen it says la streep saves it-which would mean she's remarkable talented to rise above material by the woman who's inflicted such tripe as "sleepless in seattle," "when harry met sally," and, everyone's all time fave, "bewitched" upon us.

    Posted by: alguien | Aug 6, 2009 6:42:49 PM


  6. She is a Goddess!

    And what I love about her most is that she doesn't act like one. She adores actign and she makes the pleasure she takes in doing it palpable to an audience. In this the person she reminds me of most is the late great Gilda Radner.

    After all her years of doing serious roles she's now seemingly settled into comedy. And the reason why is she's a a complete clown. She'd rather get a laugh than ANYTHING.

    And in person she's as hilarious as she is on screen.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 6, 2009 7:00:27 PM


  7. Princeton University awarded an honorary doctorate to Meryl Streep this past June.

    Posted by: Abbie | Aug 7, 2009 11:25:43 AM


  8. Five words are keeping me away from this movie: A Film by Nora Ephron

    Posted by: Waynesf | Aug 7, 2009 12:17:49 PM


  9. A total waste of Streep's amazing talent and awesome portrayal of Julia. Ephron couldn't wait to get this pieced together hodge-podge to the big screen (as usual!). The opportunity to do justice to Julia's incredible and touching life-story has been shared with, and wasted on, a whiney New York Blogger for the sake of making a quick buck!!! Ephron has squandered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and personally I cannot believe that Streep agreed to do this film based on such a horrible screen play. OK, 10 years writing a cook book is amazing, but her TV show should have been a featured element as part of her life. I know the film was about a blogger and her journey.... I guess my real question is why!!!!!

    Posted by: Peter | Aug 16, 2009 1:20:28 PM


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