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Friday, August 14, 2009

Julie & Julia Review.

On Sunday night, we went to see Julie & Julia. I have to say that this was one rare instance in which I actually liked the movie ten times better than I liked the book, and it has taken me this long to actually formulate my thoughts into a reasonably organized review. For some reason, I've been laboring over this entry; I've been adding, rewording, and striking fervently in order to craft a worthy review. I feel like Julia deserves the very best that I can offer, and that just hasn't been working to my advantage lately. Here's what I have come up with. While it probably isn't my best work, it's the best that I can do right now. Love it or leave it. :o)

* spoilers for both the movie and the book ahead *

image courtesy of MSN

As I walked into the theater, and in the days leading up to the release of the movie, I was concerned that the movie would mimic Julie Powell's book too much. Julie & Julia (the book) has very little to do with the actual lives of Paul & Julia Child, barring a few letters from Paul to his brother, and some speculation by Julie. Upon doing some research and learning that the movie was written and directed by Nora Ephron, I was a little more at ease, because I had a feeling that she wouldn't let me down (I love most of her work, including You've Got Mail, which is by far my favorite), and she did not.

I felt that there was a healthy balance between the two main "characters," but I was secretly (or not so secretly) thrilled when I realized that there was a lot more Julia content than the book portrayed. The screenplay was based on two books: Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, by Julie Powell, and My Life in France, by Julia Child, with Alex Prud-homme. The inclusion of the second title is what made this movie great.

One thing that James was very concerned about was that the movie would trivialize how difficult it actually was for a woman to attend a cooking school at that time -- it was next to impossible. (note: James is rather obsessed with any food-star out there, and Julia is no exception. He actually had lunch with her at her house in Cambridge while he was in cooking school -- lucky duck!) We both felt that the movie made it seem like Julia was far more accepted in that very strict Le Cordon Bleu environment than she would have been in real life. I don't actually know, however, what it was like for her, since I haven't yet read My Life in Paris, or any other account of her time in culinary school, if one even exists. The movie did, however, portray how difficult it was for her to relocate to Paris, knowing no French and little about cooking, and take very advanced classes at one of the world's top culinary institutions.

The movie kept a smile on my face for the majority of its two hour run time. The cinematography was beautiful. The screenplay was delightful. The acting was supernaturally excellent.

images courtesy of Smith College and The Huffington Post, respectively

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci were amazing as Julia and Paul Child. I loved their screen chemistry in The Devil Wears Prada, and I loved them in this. Meryl Streep, who donned platforms to channel all 6'2" of her character, was a dead on Julia Child. It was surreal to watch, because you almost forgot you were watching Meryl play Julia, and were not actually watching Julia be Julia. Maybe I'm exaggerating, but she was amazing. And, as this NYT review aptly states,

"Often when gifted actors impersonate real, familiar people, they overshadow the originals, so that, for example, you can’t think of Ray Charles without seeing Jamie Foxx, or Truman Capote without envisioning Philip Seymour Hoffman. But Ms. Streep’s incarnation of Julia Child has the opposite effect, making the real Julia, who died in 2004, more vivid, more alive, than ever."

Amy Adams and Chris Messina as Julie and Eric Powell were decent. I felt that Julie's movie character wasn't as true to the original as it could have been, but this was a PG-13 movie, after all. I don't know if I would have chosen Amy Adams as the role of Julie, because she just seems too nice, and I think Julie Powell deserves a more nitty-gritty than sugary-sweet approach.

images courtesy of MSN and Fashion in Motion, respectively.

If you've read her book or blog, you know that Julie Powell has a foul mouth. I am thankful that they cut out a great deal of this from the movie, because I don't think that I could bear watching Amy Adams utter some of those words. While I was relieved that parts were left out (like the whole part about her childhood and the book she found in her parents' bathroom!), there were some changes made to her story that were cut, which should have been included to make it more concrete and appealing to viewers. I feel bad that those parts never made it to the movie (especially the bone marrow extraction!), because without them, Julie Powell looks like a whiny, self-absorbed twit who tries to talk and look like Julia Child while throwing elaborate dinner parties on her roof (none of which were in her book, by the way). Not to mention, it makes her year of "cooking dangerously" seem a lot more composed than it actually was...

In reality, Julie Powell started the project because she found herself on the brink of a breakdown. She was approaching thirty. She had been diagnosed with a "condition" that would make it difficult for her to have children. She graduated from college with degrees in writing and theater, yet was working a string of temp jobs, doing secretarial work for a company teeming with republicans (Julie is staunchly liberal). She didn't know how she got to where she was, but she knew that she didn't like it. The blog was born out of a need to accomplish something... anything. In her desperate search to find herself, she found Julia, her guiding light. In one blog entry, written on the day of Julia Child's death (well after the challenge had ended), Julie poignantly writes:

"I never met Julia Child. I have no particular reason to think that she'd even have liked me if I had. I have no claim over the woman at all, unless it's the claim those who have nearly drowned have over the person who pulled them out of the ocean."

This movie, and particularly Julie Powell's book, struck a chord with me, because the struggles of these two women remind me so much of my own struggles. Anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I'm always taking on new projects, but often abandoning them out of boredom. I can absolutely empathize with the feelings Julie and Julia experience: the longing for some tangible thing to give meaning to your life. Maybe that's why I like the movie so much; for two hours, I didn't have to think about my own faults and failures, and just sat and basked in the success of these two women and the journeys they took to reach that success.

In any case, Julia Child stole the show (and rightfully so, in my opinion). I'm happy that she has finally been served up to the masses as the cultural giant that she was. I think that many times, when we're all poking fun and doing our best warbling "Julia" impersonation (my sister and I have a really good one, although we don't hold a candle to Dan Aykroyd), we forget how important she has been to our culture. We would not have The Food Network, Top Chef, Hell's Kitchen, or any of those other cooking shows without her. Cooking in one's home would not be the same without her. She was Monumental, and now she has been brought to the unsuspecting public in the clean, unfettered, and delightful package that is Julie & Julia. If this movie succeeds at nothing else, I hope that it will show younger generations, who don't really understand what feats she accomplished, what a dynamic, talented, and multifaceted person she actually was.

image courtesy of Book Club Companion

I particularly enjoyed this review, because it expresses my sentiments much more accurately and eloquently than I ever could:

p.s. I have been hovering over the "publish" button for a good fifteen minutes... here goes nothing.
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