DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
JULIE & JULIA (director/writer: Nora Ephron; screenwriters: based on “My Life in France” by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, and “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell; cinematographer: Stephen Goldblatt; editor: Richard Marks; music: Alexandre Desplat; cast: Meryl Streep (Julia Child), Amy Adams (Julie Powell), Stanley Tucci (Paul Child), Chris Messina (Eric Powell), Jane Lynch (Dorothy McWilliams, Julia's sister), Linda Emond (Simone Beck), Helen Carey (Louisette Bertholle), Erin Dilly (Judith Jones), Frances Sternhagen (Irma Rombauer, author of The Joy of Cooking); Runtime: 123; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Ms. Ephron/Laurence Mark/Amy Robinson/Eric Steel; Columbia Pictures; 2009)

 
"Tasty mostly because Meryl Streep as the daffy American chef Julia Child nails her role with perfection."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A slow French stew served as a gourmet meal by writer-director Nora Ephron ("Bewitched"/"Sleepless in Seattle"/"You've Got Mail"). The culinary biopic and dramedy pays homage to Julia Child, and the overlong, tension-free and poorly paced pic is tasty mostly because Meryl Streep as the daffy American chef Julia Child nails her role with perfection while also giving off some good aromas and plenty of Julia's joie de vivre. 

Ephron simultaneously adapts two true stories, Julia Child’s autobiography My Life In France and Julie Powell’s blog-turned-memoir, the 2005, "Julie & Julia," into one story. She doesn't have the filmmaking chops to make it work out seamlessly on both ends, as she's shortchanged by each story. Nevertheless it's an easy film to swallow and forget what didn't taste so good, as everything is so buttery and French and into celebrating food as something sensual that goes with Julia's favorite saying of Bon appétit! 

The Child's story begins in 1949, where the unfulfilled 37-year-old dwells in Paris with her saintly U.S. embassy diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci). The passionate about French cuisine Julia, an avowed Francophile, attends the prestigious and expensive Le Cordon Bleu and tries to prove to herself that she's not a dabbler to the frowning men chefs in the school. After receiving her diploma from the school's haughty head, who doesn't think much of Americans as cooks, Julia decides, with the full support from hubby, to make cooking her life's calling. It will result in the awkward but fearless Julia making convenient friends with fellow French epicureans Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey). They will eventually collaborate on a cooking school and on a massive 524-recipe cookbook that was initially turned down by publishers until the cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," was published in 1961 and became the seminal French cookbook in America. It took Julia a decade to write the book and along with the publication came instant fame, a long-lasting TV show (The French Chef which premiered in 1963) and that the personable Julia became an inspiration to many Americans to cook more rewarding cuisine. The idea behind the book was to make French recipes accessible to “the servantless American cook,” and in that goal she heartily succeeded.

The alternate story comes across as a more shallow one. It has the unfulfilled and self-absorbed Julie Powell (Amy Adams) and her supportive professional husband Eric (Chris Messina) living in a modest Long Island City, Queens, apartment building, above a pizza store, who uses all his energy trying to make his stressed-out wife happy. The fretful at approaching 30-year-old, Julie, working as a government secretary answering phone complaints in a tiny cubicle at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, in the post- 9/11 days, on a worksite that overlooks the ruins of the World Trade Center, needed something creative to do to feel whole. In 2002, Julie has become increasingly envious of her high-powered executive girlfriends’ success cutting big real estate deals and is not able to get satisfaction helping the victims on her job. She thereby hits on the idea of being a blogger and cooking the 524 recipes, in 365 days, in Julia Child's much re-published cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and writing about her experiences in a daily blog. Using Julia Child as her inspiration to knock off a different dish each night, Julie's life now centers around her cooking and the blog. But she still experiences wide mood swings, as she thrills at the growing positive commentary from the public but becomes bitchy when a dish doesn't work out.

The idea of weaving the stories together is to show the women as soulmates, even if they never met, who are united  by their love of cooking French, their similar sweet natured doting and supportive husbands, and their obsessive search for meaning in life through publication and fame for their cooking. The only problem with this take on the biopics, is that the cheery Julia was the real-deal who was genuine about enriching the lives of others through cooking while the whiny upstart Julie seems in it only to fulfill her own empty life in a frivolous, opportunistic and insincere way. I don't think Ephron got that (but Julia Child got it and refused to acknowledge Julie with a voice of approval), and thereby leaves each story wanting by trivializing Child's accomplished life as comparable with Julie's less dazzling experiences.

REVIEWED ON 8/9/2009       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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