- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Sony Pictures
Reviewed by David Medsker
ulie & Julia” is a movie out of time, and not just because it takes place in both the ‘50s and earlier this decade. The writer/director at the helm hasn’t had a hit in 11 years, and the movie appears to be oblivious to any of the recent changes in cinema trends (though we do get to hear Meryl Streep utter a word that had previously been unthinkable). This actually proves to be a good thing; after all, we’re talking about a summer movie involving Julia Child and post-9/11 New York. Making this movie hip would have rendered it unwatchable, and considering the audience that this movie will attract, its lack of hipness will indeed be a huge selling point.
The story takes two stories, namely “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell and “My Life in Paris” by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme, and stacks them on top of each other. Child (Meryl Streep) is the wife of American ambassador Paul Child (Stanley Tucci). It’s the early 1950s, Julia and Paul have just moved to Paris, and Julia is, well, bored. After an aborted attempt at making hats, Julia takes to cooking, and proves herself quite the student. Cut to New York City in 2002, where Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a government drone by day and struggling author by night, is restless. She’s turning 30, and of course is fretting over the fact that she hasn’t yet figured out her life’s work, when she gets an idea: she loves to cook, and idolizes Child, so she starts a blog about trying to cook every recipe in one of Child’s cookbooks in a year’s time. The cooking gives her life purpose, though her husband Eric (Chris Messina) could do without the narcissism that pours out as she obsesses over her readership. The movie then jumps back and forth in telling the tales of both women, living shockingly parallel lives.
You have to give Amy Adams credit for taking a part like this. She is the most lovable girl in Hollywood at the moment – she even got sourpuss critics to say nice things about “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” because she was in it – and once starlets become America’s sweetheart, many of them turn, well, less than sweet in their attempts to maintain that image (ahem, Meg Ryan). Julie Powell, however, is not very lovable. She’s self-absorbed, needy and neurotic (all traits of a writer, as I will be the first to attest), and Adams doesn’t even reach for her charm switch in order to disguise any of this. Streep does something even more curious with Julia Child: she plays her right down the middle, making Child no one to root for or against. She’s just someone to…watch.
Which brings us to the three people that make “Julie & Julia” work, and they are Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, and writer/director Nora Ephron. This is not to knock Streep or Adams, but in a nifty twist on relationship movie convention, the men behind the women provide the movie’s emotional weight. Tucci is unflappable as Paul Child, even when his own life is unraveling, and Messina, whether his character likes the title or not, is a saint as Julie’s extremely patient husband Eric. And then there’s Ephron, who gets the comeback of the year award for her work here. It’s ten times more difficult for women in Hollywood to rebound from a bomb, and her script here isn’t perfect – Jane Lynch makes a second-quarter appearance as Julia’s sister Dorothy, only to disappear just as quickly – but this is arguably the best thing Ephron’s done since “Sleepless in Seattle,” a movie that’s old enough to drive a car.
Of course, casting Streep and Adams in the same movie will result in something worth watching – this is the second time the two have appeared in the same movie, though unlike “Doubt,” the two never did a scene together here – but Ephron will be the first to tell you that casting alone cannot carry a movie. She’s directed some of the biggest movie stars in the world, and the results were box office poison. She clearly dug down deep for “Julie & Julia,” and it shows.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
Columbia issues a surprisingly bare-bones edition of their summer chick flick hit. Director Nora Ephron offers an audio commentary, and there is a great featurette – a 27-minute featurette, at that – about the making of the movie. Lastly, there are nine, count 'em, nine trailers for other Sony-related movies. In fairness to Sony, what else did they need to add, exactly?