No, don't worry, Julie & Julia wasn't Banned in England! No... the point is, I can relate the headaches that Julie Powell (a real-life writer played here by Amy Adams) went through when she decided to launch her Blog and fuel it with a one-year journey through every single recipe in Julia Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking (written with Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck and Sidonie Coryn). If you're wondering why that amounts to such an ordeal, you might want to know that the first publishing deals for this book fell through because the publisher thought it was too much like an encyclopedia. There are well over five-hundred recipes in that tome, man... and Julie Powell was determined to make them all in 365 days... seemingly for no reward at all.
Yeah, so now you're thinking that sounds harder than reviewing all 74 of those banned movies. But before you go saying your old buddy Kneumsi had it easy, keep in mind that most of the Video Nasties are terrible and harder than hell to sit through while Julie Powell got to enjoy every dish on that menu. I wish I'd known the lady. I'd have traded her fair and square.
It's not lost on anyone, I'm sure, that because Julie Powell is a real person and has turned her blog into a book AND has had that book turned into a movie that's won more awards than you can shake a ham hock at, obviously her reward for this exercise was way more than just culinary delights. However, adapter/ director Nora Ephron goes a lot further than just telling the story that popped up on the blogosphere. Instead, Ephron adapts Julie's story while intertwining Child's autobiographical My Life In France (written with her great-nephew Alex Prud'homme). What we get with this approach is a very good story of Julie Powell's trek through all 524 recipes and the doors that this "fool's errand" opens for her echoing back to Child's own life story and how she went from optimistic wife looking for a fun hobby to one of the most recognizable names in any kitchen or cooking show for that matter. Lucky for us all, this film goes a lot farther than merely being "Cute".
We're introduced to Julie and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) as they settle into their new abode in Queens. This is mirrored by seeing Julia Child (impeccably played here by Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) as they settle into Paris. Needless to say the Childs like Paris a bit more than the Powells like Queens, but that might have something to do with the fact that Julia is an eternal positive thinker who sees beauty in everything while Julie has found herself answering phone calls from victims of the September 11 terror attacks.
Naturally, Julie could use a bit of a pick-me-up, so she decides to launch that blog and undertake the proposition of cooking all that food in one year, though nobody cares. That is... until somebody does. Soon readers are sending her ingredients through the mail and publications are contacting her for interviews. Meanwhile, back in the past, Julia Child has found her calling and the dominoes in her life are falling into the shape of a very good chef. Just as Julie took her mundane life, added spice and wrote about it with quite a flair, Julia Child took the prospect of writing recipes (hardly a thrill-a-minute) and added a personality to each one to let that inner light shine through and, thankfully, make the book fun and easy to read.
However, like I said, this is hardly just a "cute" movie about how two women separated by decades find inspiration and are granted, by God, exactly what they want to do. No, neither Powell nor Child simply had a slam dunk pop up as easy as a vitamin ad on WebMd. Ephron as writer and director show just how much depth there really was to Julia Child. How much she wanted out of life and how many things stood in the way. Similarly, while Julie Powell has a different kind of hard time, there's no question that she is a complex person who was looking for a little more than just "a cooking project".
Lucky for us we had the actresses we do. Adams is great as Julie and brings that brightness she has to most every scene. However, cliché though this might be, Meryl Streep is amazing as Julia Child. She captures that unique, near-falsetto voice that Julia had and represents it wonderfully without once sounding like she's poking fun at Child. Further, through that same voice (and some fantastic acting) we see just how the bright and optimistic exterior of Julia Child was only the shell over which many, many layers exist. Oh we see she was a good person, but definitely not without her pain. Tucci is great as the supportive and unflappable husband Paul, while Messina manages to hold his own okay with these award winners around him.
The cast is all around of good quality as Mary Lynn Rajskub shows up to bring us Julie's best pal Sarah, while Jane Lynch pops up to bring us Julia's sister Dorothy McWilliams. Bertholle and Beck even get good representation from Helen Carey and Linda Emond, respectively.
With these actors, as well as the writing and directing of Ephron, the pathos and depth of these REAL characters shines through easily and that's a beautiful thing. No matter who you are when you start watching this film, it's hard to NOT want both Julia and Julie to make it at what they really want to do... and when things go right, it just feels good... not because this is some Hollywood glurge that uses your heart-strings like marionette cables, but because the characters are that well done.
If I had to point out any exception, if this even counts, I have to take a close look at the two husbands here, who seem to be straight out of a Romance Novel. I'd call them unreal if they weren't based on real people. Both Paul and Eric are portrayed as sensitive, strong men who constantly compliment their wives and constantly find them so desirable they want only to sweep them up in their arms and kiss them as the music swells. If Meryl is having a hard time, her husband is right there with an encouraging word and all kinds of ideas on how to make things work. When Amy freaks out, her man is right there, supportive and caring throughout it all, wanting nothing but more time with her. Even when one big fight takes place he comes right back with a sensitive smile like something right out of Sleepless in Seattle or You've Got Mail (both of which Nora Ephron directed). Hey, I'm not complaining, it's just hard for we mere mortal men to keep up.
Further, there are the occasional plot threads that are easily forgotten when Ephron is done with them and there are a few things shoved into the script that might have done well with a bit of a reduction... preferably a red wine reduction over a delicious steak and... Hmmm... I guess I'm thinking about cooking after this flick, huh? Who wants din-din? I'm in the kitchen, folks!
The truth is, the overall flavor of Julie & Julia is really very good. It's rich, but not too strong, romantic, but not sappy, cute, but not saccharine. Thankfully the acting sweeps this up into its own kitchen, presided over by head chef Meryl Streep whose performance alone is worth Four and One Half Stars out of Five! It's like Butter. See you in the next reel, French Chefs near and far!
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