memoir Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (2004), the movie compares and contrasts the lives of a pair of distinct women as if we were flipping back and forth between timelines lived by a single one.
It is essentially two films fused into one. In the first movie, we are transported into the world lived by Child from 1949 into most of the 1950s, a period during which she decided to stop simply being a man’s (Stanley Tucci) wife and become the best American French chef there ever was.
In the 2002-set second, we see things through the eyes of Powell, a professionally frustrated working type in her upper 20s who decides she’s going to prepare all the meals showcased in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961) over the course of a year, blogging the results.
Julie & Julia’s structuring is undeniably gusty, not just because it’s relatively difficult to three-dimensionally realize a single leading character in a film, but also because it’s not so simple to announce that there really and truly are parallels between the lives of a rich woman with a caricatured disposition and an unhappy young person who goes home to an apartment above a pizzeria every night.
Whether Ephron’s gutsiness pays off isn’t so definite, though. While the feature certainly brings out a delectable performance from Streep (who has both the whimsical persona and accent down) and does a considerably effective job making the case that yes, Powell and Child were much more similar than either’d like to admit, it never quite comes to life.
Overly fussy and almost page bound, its appeal doesn’t quite exist for anyone outside the demographic of book club goers who devoured Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (2006). It’s conceptually interesting and has all the right characteristics to make for a delightful popcorn movie. But it feels like, as the real-life Child said about Powell’s blog, a stunt; it’s just a more high maintenance way of telling the same old self-actualization story detailed by Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008).
The likability problem’s high here, too. Rather than sympathetically come across as unsatisfied women trying to take control of their lives in creative ways, the protagonists appear as selfish steamrollers of sorts who’d rather die than take a moment to consider how their one-track-mindedness is having an effect on those closest to them.
Powell is particularly grating during certain moments, and when her husband temporarily leaves her midway through the film, we don’t feel bad for her. In her attempts to become Julia Child lite, she not only has generally ignored him – she’s also been combative even when he’s simply trying to be supportive. Poor Chris Messina and Tucci as the husbands. They’re of the long-suffering sort, and Ephron seems to prefer we think of them as merely devoted.
The movie additionally doesn’t seem to enjoy the food as much as its characters. Considering French cuisine is basically a part of the ensemble, we crave Eat Drink Man Woman (1994)-level displays of three-course meals. But we barely get them. So even a couple glimpses here and there, paired with a plethora of “mmms,” can’t distract us from the fact that our annoyances with these characters outweigh what the film does well. Which still isn’t a lot. But Ephron’s pretty unmatched when it comes to making easily digestible misadventures in inoffensive frivolousness, so at least we’re never bored. C+
2 Hrs., 3 Mins.
Julie & Julia December 9, 2017
great many succulent dishes are made throughout Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia (2009), so it’s no wonder that the movie itself is something of a dish, too. Light and airy, it’s tasty like a souffle – though maybe it isn’t as fulfilling as one of the meatier meals concocted by either one of the focal protagonists, chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep) or food blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams).
The path on which the film sets out is a rather ingenious one. Officially based upon the Child autobiography My Life in France (2006) and the Powell