Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie and Julia

Written and Directed by Nora Ephron
Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci

The story of Julie and Julia is one of two lost people who use the act of preparing meals to find a purpose. Julia is Julia Child, (Meryl Streep) world-renowned chef who introduced French cuisine to American audiences. Julie is Julie Powell, (Amy Adams) a woman who decides to cook every meal in Child's cookbook within a year and blog about her experience. Both women are married to kind, supportive, and understand husbands. The similarities between the two women pretty much end there.

Julia is a very tall woman with a big personality to match. She is loud and full of life. She is very personable and seems to bring joy to the lives of others. She is married to Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) and even though they are both in their forties they are very romantic and very vigorous in their physical relationship. They adore one another and it shows. We open on her story as Julia and Paul are moving to Paris because of his work in the American Embassy. Julia finds that Paris is thriving with excitement and culture and she falls in love with it. She loves the city and she moved to support Paul but she still needs something to do with her time. She loves eating so she decides to become a chef and quickly finds that not only does she love eating but she also loves preparing food. She isn't out to prove anything to anybody, she just wants to do what she loves and she wants to do it well.

On the other hand, Julie is a petite woman with a gloomy personality. When we open on her story she is moving into a shabby apartment in Queens with her husband Eric (Chris Messina). Within the first few moments in this new apartment she has a break down from the stress in her life. She doesn't want to live in Queens she wants to live somewhere with more prestige. All her friends are successful businesswomen and she works a small government job helping the victims of 9-11 with their insurance claims. She needs to find a purpose in her life because she needs to feel successful. She needs to be validated in the eyes of her friends. Her marriage is strong but she isn't always as engaged in it as her husband. She is more concerned with herself than her marriage.

For the first half of this film the opposite personalities of these two women work well together. It is essentially the same story taking place in two different time periods. It is a case of iron sharpening iron, the weakness of Julie and the strength of Julia make for an interesting dynamic. Both women are trying really hard to establish themselves and the two stories are strengthened by their opposite motivations and goals.

In the second half the individual stories change and rather than feeling like two stories working together they become two separate stories. The story of Julia Child becomes about who she is, her marriage, and how she came to author one of the most famous cookbooks of all time. Success in the culinary world is not the focus of the story about Julia Child. The focus is Julia Child and it is a great story. It is very easy to root for this character because she is so lovable. Streep gives into the force of nature that is Julia Child with reckless abandonment.

Child is not the kind of person who lets the bad times slow her down. There are times in this film in which Paul gives her bad news and you see her take it for the briefest of moments before she changes the conversation. Streep makes it clear that Child is not simply brushing it off. She has this look on her face that lets you know she is processing the bad news and when she is done she moves on to something else. For some undisclosed reason (in the film at least) Julia and Paul cannot have children. We first come to know this because in one scene they are walking in a park and pass a baby carriage. Julia looks back at the baby and then down at the ground. Paul then puts his arm around her and they keep walking and talking. This is a brilliant scene and the credit goes to Streep and Tucci for completely selling the scene without making a statement.

In the second half of the film Julie's story becomes all about her. She is writing this blog and cooking these recipes because she needs to validate herself. It isn't about wanting to do something she loves. She is doing it because one of her best friends has just started a blog and it is met with instant success. Through out the film she is constantly keeping track of how many people comment on her blog and celebrates each time the number is raised. At first it is fun to watch her tackle the recipes in Child's book but after awhile it becomes completely about her vanity.

Julie is always complaining about everything and her husband just tries to hear her out. He is standing by her as she works on this project and cheers her on. She doesn't appear to be interested in anything that he is doing. Their marriage feels just as real as Paul and Julia's but it is completely different. Where as Paul and Julia had a marriage based on mutual edification it is one sided with Julie and Eric. In short Julie Powell is a bitch and I want to credit to both writer-director Nora Ephron and Amy Adams for letting the character be a bitch.

Last week I shared my respect for Adam Sandler and Judd Apatow because they had the courage to let their main character be an asshole for the purpose of the story in Funny People. Adams and Ephron are doing the same thing in this film. The character isn't completely unlikeble she is just shallow and narcissistic and it serves their story well. The story is about a woman trying to prove herself to society and they are okay with letting it be vain pursuit. Adams is not unlikable in this performance. She isn't a villain, she is actually very likable. She is okay with playing the character as she is without trying to make her cute so people will like her.

The only problem with it is that it is happening at the same time that we are rooting for Julia Child. These are two great stories but they don't always play well together. Still, I highly recommend this film. It is so refreshing to see a film that is based on character not cheap thrills and when it is done as well as this one it is worth checking out.

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