August 10, 2009

Review: Julie & Julia

juliaandjulia1_smallNora Ephron returns to the director's chair for the first time since Bewitched and in doing so, delivers a much better and more enjoyable film.

Over the years film genres get reduced to their cliches, making each new film to arrive not terribly dissimilar to the ones that immediately preceded 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. It takes filmmakers to 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 what Nora Ephron did with Julie & Julia, which was to bring two people's connected lives together and focus on a specific portion of their respective lives. It is a different take that pays off.

julieandjuliapic11Julie & 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 and crafted a fine film. It is not a great film, it is not a terribly n depth film, but it is definitely a crowd pleasing film and one that keeps its focus squarely on its two primary subjects, it never wavers from these two women. To that end, the surrounding characters are more small role players than fill fledged characters. Had this been written as a more well rounded film it could have been more interesting, but I suspect it would be at the expense of the crowd pleasing aspect.

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 taking calls regarding 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 her novel 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.

julieandjuliapic12Intercut 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 in how the two women's lives parallel each other. Granted, they are both doing things for different reasons and different ends, but we pick them both up at a critical point 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.

julieandjuliapic2The 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, her, as Julia Child, she 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 focus inward somewhat, to the point that her marriage is mildly threatened, but 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 they come across as more props than people. They are there to merely support and encourage their significant others. I wonder what it would have been like had they been more fully rounded?

Nora Ephron did a fine job of giving the film a light touch. It is very easy to get swept up in their journeys. It 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 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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