Julie and Julia

I don't usually review films, but I feel like many of the reviews of the charming Julie and Julia have been so off base that I had to add to the conversation. Many reviews have wished for more of the Julia character and less of the Julie character, or at least said that the Julia character was more interesting to watch. And maybe there should be a Julia Child biopic starring Meryl Streep, but that's not what this movie is about. Here's why.

First, the fantastic book Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, based on her blog The Julie/Julia Project, was the basis for the movie, and while Powell does quote (and imagine) Child in the book for atmosphere, the original book was much more about Julie than Julia. Yeah, maybe this sounds like a pointless whine about the movie being adapted differently than the book . . . and I don't mind that the Julia Child part was expanded and the Julie Powell character was whitewashed a little, although it would have been interesting to see a less mainstream writer/director make this film (Amy Heckerling? Pedro Almodovar? Stanley Tucci?). It's a Nora Ephron film. What do you expect? I'm surprised Meg Ryan didn't pop up somewhere. But the film as it exists was not adapted so far off of the book to focus as much on Julia as the critics may have you thinking.

For critics to ignore the fact that the story is Julie Powell's story is a little ridiculous. Even if you hadn't read the book, or Julia Child's books, even if you have been asleep for the past 50 years, or even if you, like me, were always intensely irritated by Julia Child and switch off the TV any time she appears, we know what happened to Julia Child before we hear the Julie/Julia story, whether through the blog, the book, or the film. She became a chef in her late 30's after being a government worker during WWII. She wrote a famous French cookbook. Even Emeril admires her. Whatever! It's historical background, cultural filler, not a dynamic plotline.

Meanwhile, Julie Powell is a relatable character to me and many in my generation (I turned 30 the same year Julie Powell did). She's college educated and underemployed (again as a government worker, eek), vaguely artistic but having a hard time finding a passion, married, childless, and living an urban lifestyle that is more grubby than glamorous but still manages to be comfortable enough. Most importantly, she's hit a critical moment when the ennui of her 20's is melting into a low but pulsing undercurrent of purposelessness as she turns 30.

The plot is just more Julie's. There are no surprises in Julia Child's scenes, but one of the great joys of the story is following Julie through the mania of being overwhelmed with recipes, deadlines, and expectations to the marital troubles that ensue, all the way to when she starts to be recognized and finally gets a freaking book deal. It's an emotional nailbiter with a real life fairy tale ending, brought on not by magic but by Julie Powell cooking and writing her brains out. You or I could do it. I'm even a government worker with a blog! When Amy Adams in the film says, teary-eyed, that she was drowning and Julia saved her, I felt it, and her performance overall was wonderful as usual. Amy Adams would not be a perfect casting choice for the real Julie Powell (think Nia Vardalos with a dash of Sarah Silverman), but for the Julie Powell character as she appears in the movie (less profane, a little more frail and composed) she was a wonderful choice.

Meryl Streep, on the other hand, was a poor casting choice for Julia Child, and I don't care if you think I'll burn in hell for saying so. Meryl Streep, of course, always shines, and it's not her fault I don't like her presence in this movie; she did a wonderful job impersonating Julia Child. I even liked the Julia Child in the film sometimes, much better than I did the TV one in real life, so that's something. Perhaps the addition of the sublime Stanley Tucci as Mr. Child and the focus on the relationship helped with that (except for during one awful scene where, about to make love to Julia after she's fixed an amazing lunch, he looks like he is wrestling a wax dummy of her onto the bed).

But is there some rule in Hollywood that if we revere someone as a cultural icon, she can only be played by someone with more Oscar nominations than God? The film covers the Childs' time in Paris, when Julia was in her late 30's to early 40's , and the way the story is framed, both Julie and Julia are going through vulnerable, transformative periods as they see the dark tunnel of middle age approaching with no specific plan in mind. Meryl Streep is 60 years old! Could they have found an actress of the correct generation to play the part?

I lay awake last night thinking of options. Does Maggie Gyllenhall have the comedic chops? Jenna Elfman has the goofy demeanor, but can she act? Laura Linney could have done it; Laura Linney can act anything beautifully and still complement the other actors in the work (see: everything Laura Linney has done from the genius John Adams to the cinematic cesspool Love Actually). Laura Linney has been nominated for several Oscars, even! Laura Linney, can you hear me? You must find out what Meryl is up to and stop her next time before she steals another movie from another wonderful actress by impersonating a major figure in a minor role.

Because in the end, here's the problem: Reviewers are expecting a Julia Child biopic and disappointed with the Julie Powell "interruptions" because the movie has been marketed as a Julie Child biopic with interjections from the parallel life story of an admirer named Julie Powell. Julia Child is more famous than Julie Powell (and every food writer); Meryl Streep is more famous than Amy Adams (and every actress). Meryl's on the front page of the website alone. Amy Adams does not appear on the site until you click into it, and even then in a collage of photos including Meryl and both husbands. Meryl starts and ends the trailer, which includes scenes of Amy Adams watching Meryl on TV and even goes so far to declare the movie is "The story of a legend who gave one woman the recipe to change her life."

But that's not what the movie is about. The movie is about the woman who changed her life, not the woman who hung out for several scenes impersonating a legend waiting to become a legend. A Julia Child biopic starring Meryl Streep (or even Laura Linney!) as Julia Child, right on up to the age of 91 when she died, would be wonderful. But in this otherwise wonderful film -- Julie's story -- casting Meryl Streep to play the minor role of Julia Child was a distraction and a disservice to the story, to Amy Adams, and to the imperfect yet inspiring Julie Powell.

3 comments:

  1. Meryl Streep rocked it in this movie..!!

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  2. I can't wait to see this movie...I loved the book! I will have to read this again after I see it.

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  3. I was anxiously waiting to see Julie and Julia and felt cheated soon after the first 20 minutes of the film. I used to be a Meryl Streep fan, she is a major talent and I never thought I'd say this but frankly "I am tired of seeing Meryl Streep" Let's face it she dominates the screen and although she is a top class actress let other talented people get their faces on the screen. And as far as Amy Adams goes will she's gone too far for someone with mediocre talent. Why does she get these major roles I can't understand. Anyway I think I'm just going to stay away from these big commercial films for a while and patronize more independent films with some fresh faces. Also want to add.... that both Streep and Especially Adams should have put on more pounds to do true justice to the story.

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