Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Julie & Julia (2009)

By Eric Jessen 7/14/09

Julie & Julia knows a lot about the love of food and the love of cooking but little about Julie Powell and Julia Child. You'll see lots of chopping, stirring, boiling, and roasting. You'll see Julie and Julia moaning, groaning, licking their lips and foaming at the mouth over food. You'll even see a retread of the lobster scene from Annie Hall. But you won't see anything interesting or intriguing about either Julie, not in spite of the overly cheery Amy Adams, or Julia even with Meryl Streep's unstoppable “brilliance” and “genius”. You learn as much about them as you could have reading Julie's blog or Julia's cook book.
We see Julia Child as we already know her, hoo hoo-ing around Paris, flipping and poaching. She's predictably unpredictable and always jovial. She is very loving and has never hated anyone in her life, other than the crotchety culinary school lady. She's how I always pictured Santa's housewife would be. She's played “hilariously” by Meryl Streep who is perfect for the role. The audience roars over her impression of Child's silly voice, especially in the first few scenes. But as I heard one audience member put it, the great accomplished director Nora Ephron “wouldn't let her fall into caricature.” We get used to Streep as Child and we get used to her voice. Streep doesn't get as many laughs near the end of the movie just for impersonating Julia Child. (By the way, it's not a good sign when the biggest laugh came from showing the entire SNL Dan Aykroyd-as-Julia Child skit.)
But don't we get to know the woman? No. And this is the failure of the movie. Somewhere half way through Julie & Julia I realized I've learned nothing about Child the person. We know the TV personality. We know she wrote a cook book. I could have read on wikipedia that she lived in Paris, had a husband who was investigated by McCarthy goons and was the rags to riches story of cooking. (At first she couldn't even boil an egg, OMG!) I first realized that this movie doesn't really know Julia when Julie finds out her idol, Julia Child, “hates” her blog. This came as a shock. Who is this women who said she never hated anyone? She seemed so nice. Who have I been watching this entire time, the TV personality.
This is a movie that knows Julia, and Julie for that matter, only on the surface. It knows Julia's voice and it knows her kitchen but not what she feels or what makes her tick. A few brief moments had me thinking I was about to better understand Julia. When she learned her sister was pregnant, she started weeping uncontrollably. I thought, hmmmm? Interesting, so she can't have kids. Elaborate please.....But no. The topic is left alone.
What about Julie? No one cares about her. She doesn't deserve to share the screen with the great Julia Child. Adams doesn't deserve to split a billing with the “genius” Meryl Streep. (I can hear toddlers and the elderly, the Amy Adams fan base, lamenting.).....Or at least that's what I heard from the audience. But actually, though I was ready to rip Adams, saying I found her cheeriness nauseating, I thought she was pretty good. Remember, she was also good in Doubt (2008). We learn Julie also has a great love for food. It even saved her life, or a least she thinks it did. But again, we never scrounge around in her cookie jar. We never learn the secret recipe that makes her Julie. I guess this movie's motto is who cares about the why? Who cares about the ingredients that made the person? Julie & Julia only cares about the finished product, the food, the scrumptious and delicious food.
This movie is perfect for all the women I see at the gym who watch the food network while on the elliptical machine. This movie is perfect for the women on the Atkins or South Beach diet who go to restaurants, order a salad and then drool over the food other people ordered. This movie is perfect if you watch it on an empty stomach and are then going straight to a reception serving gourmet food (as I was). But for everyone else Julie & Julia is an over-cooked beef bourguignon.

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