Monday, August 10, 2009

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia is Nora Ephron's first film since Bewitched, which belly-flopped about four years ago. You may remember Ephron's earlier films more fondly: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Michael, and You've Got Mail. Julie and Julia is based on a book of the same title by one Julie Powell, a struggling aspiring writer who decided to cook her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and write a blog about her experience. The blog became a book, and Ephron's used Powell's and Child's own memoir, My Life in France, for the material in Julie & Julia.

The resulting film lies somewhere in the netheregion between Biopic and Romantic Comedy. It is delightfully entertaining, with a stand-out performances (as usual) by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci. I'm yet unconvinced of Amy Adams' talent as an actor. I was very impressed with her first foray onto the Hollywood scene with the little indie that blew up and earned her her first Oscar nomination, Junebug, but I've yet to see her apply herself with the same conviction and energy.

Julie and Julia share a story, according to Ephron, because they were / are both women who were looking for a passion that could turn itself into a career. They felt guilty about their lack of contentment with their lives because they had both married well, and found love, but wanted something more. This is a very feminine condundrum, perhaps less relevant today for women in particular, but certainly relevant to us all in the midst of the most devestating depression since well, the great depression.

Julie's story is less exciting, because her art (writing) is based so largely on Julia Child's story and artistry, that Julie as a character just simply fades as the film goes on. This is not necessarily the fault of anyone, just a matter of fact about the movie's entire premise. But what the film communicates beautifully is a sense of struggle and the hopeful resounding joy of finally succeeding, not at a desk job, not as a wife, but as an artist.

Watching Meryl Streep is like watching a panther stalk its prey in the jungle. She is subtle, effortless, and absolutely stunning. While her characterization at times falls into slapstick and camp, there was certainly an element of camp to the real Julia Child, so it doesn't feel forced. The humanizing moments, when Julia (who after years of trying to get pregnant had given up) receives a letter from her sister announcing she's expecting, breaks down in the kitchen, proclaiming, "I'm so happy!" through her tears, brought me to tears in seconds flat.

Never, perhaps, in my life, have I seen marriage depicted as such a positive relationship than in this film. I mean this, I think, as a compliment. There are lots of kisses in this movie. These are happy happy marriages. And while Ephron tries to throw in a spat between Julie and her husband, it feels rigid and strange. I can't remember the last time a director tried to convince his or her audience that marriage is a good idea. So, kudos, then, to Ephron. Love is real.

The real love affair, of course, is between these women and their passion: Julie's writing and Julia's cooking. In their worlds, the process eventually brings them to fulfillment. And then they've got it all: the career they want and a loving partner. So why do I sound skeptical? Maybe I am. There's a scene when Julia finally gets a letter of acceptance from Knopf for her cookbook. She immediately calls out to Paul, and bounces around her front porch with joy. This is it. This is the big moment. I suppose I just feel little jealous: I want the same thing for myself, to be able to call out to my partner and say, "Here it is, finally, look, I've done it, and all the meltdowns and all your support was worth it!" Until then, this film reminds us that we've got to focus on the day to day, and the little joys about finding the big kahuna.

6 comments:

Joanna Goddard said...

this is such a great write-up, i can't wait to see it!

traveler said...

Of course she left out the affair Julie Powell pursued as she was finishing up the book...

Snobber said...

thanks joanna!

traveler: whoa. is the affair in the book?

traveler said...

No, it's the subject of her upcoming book. It was due out about now but has been pushed back until December. The title is supposed to be Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession. Her gimmick in this one is to apprentice herself to a butcher shop out of town.

I only brought it up because it makes the spat between her and Eric in the movie more believable.

Snobber said...

did they end up divorcing? oy.

traveler said...

According to comments she made on an ABC show last week, I think they're still together. I'm sure hew new book will go into it in detail. She's kind of the queen of TMI.

By the way, she has a current blog here on blogspot:

http://juliepowell.blogspot.com/