Thursday, November 19, 2009
Julie and Julia ***
Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams
Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Jane Lynch, Erin Dilly
Mary Kay Place, Linda Emond
Meryl Streep is to acting, what Julia Child was to cooking: a master of the craft, who never forgets to enjoy her work.
This is why it's no coincidence that Streep was chosen to play Child (this and than the fact that she's the greatest imitator ever and even seems to grow a few inches to play this part) but because watching Streep act, like watching Child cook, is a delight.
You might not learn how to cook and you might not learn how to act, but your day sure will seem richer after being with them.
Streep plays Child during her stay in Paris after WWII, where she moved with her diplomat husband Paul (Tucci), enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu and began writing what would become her masterpiece "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".
Fast forward fifty something years to New York City where aspiring novelist Julie Powell (Adams) comes up with the idea to write a blog detailing how she masters Julia Child's book in one year.
From this basis, Ephron shapes a charming story that often draws parallels between the women (think "The Hours" light, very light) to show us how inspiration can come from the unlikeliest of sources.
Graciously paced and crafted, the film evokes the charming, harmless spectacles of classic Hollywood that intended only to give pleasure to its audience.
In this film the pleasure is mostly owed to the performers. Adams, who's impossible to hate, even when playing a self pronounced "bitch", brings her kind of innocence to a part that would've been damaged from being played like the cynical idea we have of NY writers.
Her part of the story might be the least appealing, but with Chris Messina who plays her husband, they do enough justice to portraying our generation's need of fulfillment.
With Tucci and Streep however; you never can get just enough. Their chemistry is magnificent-rarely do movie marriages seem so convincing, loving and natural-and Tucci is a natural scene stealer, even if he's forced by the screenplay to subject to his wife's desires.
And how could he not? Streep is literally larger than life as Child. She nails the elongated vowels, the accent and most amazingly the spirit of the cooking icon.
Even when Ephron tries to give her as little dramatic conflict as possible (her biggest problems include learning to chop onions) Streep is always ahead of the game and gives Julia little things that transform her into an actual human being.
She might've constructed the performance from videos and recordings, but Streep gives her a something extra.
Remarkably though, she also is able to deliver a meta performance of sorts. By now, she knows people will have a hard time getting over the fact that it's another Meryl Streep performance and the genius actress draws on the primordial concept behind this to turn out the sort of performance that sums up the entire movie's spirit.
"There's nothing wrong with her, she's perfect" says Powell of Child, to which her husband replies "the Julia Child in your head".
And this is exactly what Streep is playing, watch how she gives us enough internal conflict with her eyes, but stops just in time to take us back to Powell.
Someone refers to her as Julie's imaginary friend and this might be all she's actually playing, like a Harvey we can see perhaps...
Streep isn't only playing someone who lived, she's playing her version of what she thinks Amy Adams' version of Julie Powell thinks she is.
In the very same way both women are figured out by the written word. For Powell (and Adams playing Powell) people judge her based on her blog (which is based on a book...and you get the idea).
With this Ephron has something very interesting to say about how our society decodes celebrity and the places they can take in our lives.
But other than this semi-existential conundrum, nothing ever goes seriously wrong in "Julie and Julia". Sure stews get burnt and McCarthyism threatens to spoil the fun at Julia's sister wedding, but other than that there is zero conflict, therefore the movie feels like enjoying a soufflé; where we seldom have the time or desire to learn how the hell the chef avoided deflation. We just savor it and for a second or two have no cares in the world.