Julie & Julia
Julie & Julia has been one of the most anticipated films of the summer by those of us who were not lining up for the latest Transformers movie. Photos and clips of Meryl Streep as Julia Child have been around for months now, whetting our appetites for more. I saw Julie & Julia at a weekday matinee when theaters are usually pretty deserted. I was amazed to find so many people streaming into the theater. Not only that, but the audience was predominantly female, and not a teenager in sight.
Indeed Meryl Streep is brilliant, as always. It’s amazing the way she becomes Julia Child: not only the accent, but the mannerisms, and the infectious joie de vivre that Julia embodied. Most amazingly, Meryl even seems to have grown a few inches for this part. She towers over everyone else in the film, other than her equally tall sister. It’s a cinch that another Oscar nomination will be waiting for Streep. Perhaps she’ll even win this time. Incredibly, it’s been 25 years since her last Oscar. Another is long overdue.
As much as I liked Meryl Streep, I must admit that the movie itself left me flat. Writer-director Nora Ephron bases her film on two books: Powell’s Julie & Julia, and My Life in France, by Child, with Paul Prud’homme. The film parallels the two stories of Julie Powell, modern day New York government office worker and frustrated writer, with Julia Child’s life in post-war France with her diplomat husband (Stanley Tucci in a fine supporting performance). Inspired by Julia, Julie attempts to prepare 564 recepies from Child’s famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in 365 days in the cramped kitchen of the apartment she shares with her husband over a Queens pizzeria. The dour Julie finds meaning, not only in cooking, but in blogging about her experience. The contrast between the ebullient Julia, having a wonderful time learning to cook and experience France, and Julie in her tiny kitchen worrying about killing lobsters and how many people are reading her blog, just didn’t gel. This is not the fault of the gifted Adams (who also played the young nun opposite Streep’s domineering principal in Doubt). She does her best with a thankless role. How could anyone compete with the most celebrated actress of her generation, having such a wonderful time, eating and drinking her way through France?
It’s not as if Julia Child had it easy: In her mid-30’s, she has to learn to cook from scratch, then succeed in cooking school with two strikes against her: she is a woman, and an American. She works hard and perseveres against all obstacles to complete her training, then write and publish her book. She reminds me of the Dominicans I’ve known who, despite obstacles and setbacks, always keep their spirits up, and never seem to lose hope.
If you’re hungry for something other than the usual summer action blockbuster, go enjoy the remarkable Meryl having a ball playing the equally remarkable Julia. I wish I could recommend the movie as much as the performance. It’s what they used to call a “star vehicle.” Julie & Julia would be unimaginable without Streep, who brings enough smiles and warmth to make up for the film’s shortcomings.
Tom Condon, OP