The film, which comes out today, was written and directed by Nora Ephron and cuts between scenes based on Julia Child's memoir My Life in France and Julie Powell's 2005 book Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. Both Julie and Julia are happily married, but not sure what they want to do with their lives. The film depicts Julia's life in France in the late '40s and '50s, as she enrolls in Le Cordon Bleu, discovers her passion for cooking and publishes the seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. About 50 years in the future, Julie Powell lives in an apartment in Queens and works in a government job she hates, tending to the families of victims of the World Trade Center attacks. In 2002 she decides to cook her way through every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and writes about it in a blog originally published on Salon.com.
Julie & Julia is a rarity: A movie about the mentoring relationship between two women that doesn't focus on them trying to find a man. Both Julia's husband Paul Childs (Stanley Tucci) and Julie's husband Eric Powell (Chris Messina) are supportive of their wives' pursuits. Paul Childs accepts his wife's need to find her calling at a time when that was not considered a necessity for women. Eric Powell has to learn to take his wife's cooking seriously when many people consider cooking oppressive housework rather than a liberating activity. As one critic notes, the film makes "deboning a duck a feminist act."
Every review said the scenes featuring Julia Child were far better, as a modern day woman cooking in her apartment and blogging can't really compete with the iconic cook, her odd but passionate marriage, and the romance of post-war Paris. While critics said Amy Adams performance was good, they found her character Julie Powell hopelessly whiney and narcissistic. Or, as the Wall Street Journal review put it, her scenes were "dollops of margarine that barely hint at butter." (As noted on the blog Humor Slays Me, the reviews were teeming — or maybe boiling over — with bad food puns.) Many thought the film would have been better as just a Julia Child biopic, and one reviewer even suggested someone should make a bootleg edit excising all the Julie scenes. Below, we check out the reviews for Julie & Julia.
Streep isn't playing Julia Child here, but something both more elusive and more truthful — she's playing our ideaof Julia Child. When Streep's Julia nearly loses that omelette on TV, she pooh-poohs the possible dangers of dropping food on the floor: "You're alone in the kitchen. Whoooooooo's to see?" The line, and the way Streep draws it out, is just one measure of the intimacy of this performance. We're not observers here, but conspirators: We know exactly where the food has been, and we're not telling.
That's the case with Meryl Streep as the middle-aged Julia Child in the comedy Julie & Julia: What begins as a great impersonation becomes a marvel of sympathetic imagination. The performance is transcendental. Streep's voice is deeply musical, starting in the chest and erupting into that burbling falsetto with its trills and diphthongs. The voice is Streep's way into Child's pleasure centers, and the body-stiff-shouldered, sloshing around like an ocean liner-follows along in a kind of daffy interpretive dance. Streep isn't tall, but she's photographed carefully and projects height; she understands that the six-foot-two Child learned not to be ashamed of her size but to go with it. Her Julia is a force. At one point, she falls into bed with her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), and one's instinctive response-"Julia Child having sex … Ewww …"-gives way to, "Julia Child having sex … Awesome!" Anything to hear that voice in full, happy throttle!
But when Ephron cuts between Paris in the fifties and Queens in 2002 to show Julia and Julie as they both achieve autonomy through cooking, The Godfather Part II this ain't-the connection is strained. (The Child material is based on her memoir My Life in France, written with her nephew, Alex Prud'Homme.) Julie's character doesn't even track. She's referred to as a "bitch," but all we've seen is the patented Ephron adorable klutz. (Adams is too good to waste on Meg Ryan parts.) Ephron should make a film about the person she herself is (smart, acid) instead of the cutie-pixie of her dumb fantasies.
The Julia parts in Julie & Julia are a delight. The ones about Julie? More like an annoying distraction.,,,Julie, by contrast, isn't so well-defined; it isn't so easy to connect with her. The deeper she delves into her cooking project and the more she withdraws from her enormously supportive husband (Chris Messina), the more whiny, narcissistic and unlikable she becomes - which is surprising given Adams' seemingly boundless charm. Working her way through Julia's groundbreaking tome (co-written by Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck) feels more like a tedious chore or a source of wacky slapstick than a proud accomplishment, as Ephron focuses on Julie's culinary screw-ups. Despite the clever idea of juxtaposing both women's lives, this really should have been a biopic of Julia Child, if only to hear Streep say more things like "beurre blanc" in that distinctive, high-pitched voice. Now that would have been a meal worth sinking your teeth into.
Powell's story about her single-minded engagement with Child's cookbook has an almost unpleasant taste of self-absorption. And by sharing that story with Child's, Ephron throws the wrong emphasis on Child's delightful memoir of the early years in her ideal marriage to Paul Child. True, the movie shows that Paul — played with modest self-effacement by Stanley Tucci against Streep's larger-than-life Julia — encourages his beloved wife's every experiment in the kitchen and the writing of her seminal book. But by contrasting that memoir with Powell's, the movie somewhat distorts the life the Childs share as they revel in their love for la belle France and each other....Adams' Julie is more of a lost soul. She lives with a "saint," as she often calls her husband, Eric (Chris Messina), in an iffy apartment above a pizza parlor. She works in a federal government office overlooking the World Trade Center crater and laments that she has never finished anything in her life. Thus her determination to complete the cookbook marathon. She suffers for her blog. She drags herself to that cramped kitchen whether sick or well. She refuses to quit because it has become her identity. Without the "Julie/Julia Project," she'd revert to a frustrated wife with a dead-end job and another unfinished project. No joie de vivre here.
The movie just assumes that Powell is a sympathetic figure. Then it goes about justifying the juxtaposition of the two women by finding shallow parallels between them. In fact, their differences in moral stature and achievement are staggering: Julia Child passionately applies herself in an effort to do something worthwhile and finally achieves a foothold in success after 13 years of hard work and setbacks. Meanwhile, Julie, piggybacking on the efforts of a great woman, tries to get famous by writing a blog - and succeeds inside a year. On the way to her book and movie deals, she whines, throws tantrums and puts her poor husband (Chris Messina) through utter hell.
The tome is an absolutely delightful read in which Powell uses Child and, in particular, Child's 1961 cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, to discover "what it takes to find your way in the world," as she wrote. Yet all Ephron saw in that tale was just another dreary romantic comedy about a woman, played by a slow-simmering Amy Adams, who hates her job (tending to the families of people killed in the World Trade Center attacks-Powell's office was perched over the gaping wound), hates her friends (climbers as self-obsessed as she), hates her apartment (in Queens, over a pizzeria), and escapes into cooking and writing about cooking till she leaves behind her supportive husband, Eric, played by Chris Messina, but only briefly, whew. The book, originally shopped as a stand-alone project, could have made for a scrappy, scrumptious indie-all the outer-borough funk and main-course "fucks" of the book left intact, Bridget Jones doused in Béarnaise sauce and vodka gimlets. But Ephron has excised the heart (and gizzard and liver and so on) from Powell's tale. How could the writer-director not see that she had rigged this patently unfair game of Compare and Contrast?... Perhaps someone will do forJulie & Juliawhat one enterprising Star Warsfan did for Episode I: The Phantom Menace, when he released a bootleg shorn of that annoyance named Jar-Jar Binks and titled it The Phantom Edit. Surely there's room enough in this world for two Meryl Streep movies named Julia.
The remarkable thing about the Julia segments, given Ms. Streep's daring flirtations with caricature, is how full and affecting they prove to be. Yes, Julia's windmill arms are outlandish; so is her awkward, stentorian French and her religious belief in the miracle of butter. Yet she's an endearing figure, a woman who digests the life around her with enormous gusto while she's breaking the gender barrier at a Cordon Bleu cooking class or, much later, after fame has struck, digests with incredulity her husband's advice that she ought to be on TV. Mr. Tucci's Paul plays a subordinate role in the story, but his dry wit and calm love are perfect counterpoints to the intensity of Julia's enthusiasms.
Amy Adams nails the obsessiveness of Julie's devotion to her muse, Julia. She also captures the tactile pleasures, and challenges, of cooking (how in God's name does one bone a duck?). And Ephron gives us nothing less than the first full-scale Hollywood portrait of the life of a blogger, in all its creative fire and solitary, caffeinated, how many comments did I get?midnight narcissism. Yet the movie wants to make Julie an edgy ''bitch'' and soften her at the same time, which doesn't exactly jell.
Though both women have loyal and encouraging husbands (played by fine actors Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina) who are crucial to their success, this is the rare Hollywood film where it's the men who are the support team, not the women. Julie & Julia is very much a female coming to power story, which is one of several reasons why the producers were fortunate to get Ephron to write and direct.
Though a bit overshadowed by Streep (who isn't?), the gifted Adams is essential in making this two-part story work. Playing a character that is more ordinary than the actress' past efforts (think the princess in Enchanted) but still a tad eccentric, Adams turns Julie into someone we always care about no matter what shenanigans she is going through.
Julie & Julia proceeds with such ease and charm that its audacity - a no-nonsense, plucky self-confidence embodied by the indomitable Julia herself - is easy to miss. Most strikingly, this is a Hollywood movie about women that is not about the desperate pursuit of men. Marriage is certainly the context both of Julia's story and of Julie's (about whom more in a moment), but it is not the point. The point, to invoke the title of a book whose author has an amusing cameo here (played by Frances Sternhagen), is the joy of cooking.
The conceit of parallel lives is undone by the movie's condescending treatment of Julie and also by its ardent embrace of the past at the expense of the present. From the very start, Paris in the late '40s and early '50s is - well, it's postwar Paris, a dream world of fabulous clothes, architecture, sex, food, cigarettes and political intrigue. And New York in 2002 is made, a little unfairly, to seem drab and soulless by comparison. Queens, demographically the most cosmopolitan of the five boroughs and something of a foodie mecca, is treated with easy Manhattanite disdain, as a punch line and punching bag. The unevenness of Julie and Julia is nobody's fault, really. It arises from an inherent flaw in the film's premise. Julie is an insecure, enterprising young woman who found a gimmick and scored a book contract. Julia is a figure of such imposing cultural stature that her pots and pans are displayed at the Smithsonian. The fact that Ms. Ephron, like Julie herself, is well aware of this gap does not prevent the film from falling into it. All the filmmaker's artful whisking can't quite achieve the light, fluffy emulsion she is trying for.
People who knew or worshiped Child will question some of the movie's details. Did she and Paul, for instance, really have this much sex? Was he this romantic? ("Where's my big sprig?'' Paul says to his wife.) But that misses the larger point of these scenes. When in an American movie do regular people have that much sex? Plus - and this is important - Stanley Tucci is very sexy.
A few people have worried that Adams's half of the movie isn't as lively or as brightly lit as Streep's (it isn't) - or that Adams isn't Streep. But it isn't that the Adams half suffers from Adams not being Streep. It's that Julie suffers (as all American cooks do) from not being Julia. And this is why the Powell parts of the film work. It's Ephron's way of coming to terms with a real consequence of post-feminism. Powell is a woman in a job she hates who finds a source of liberation doing something certain liberated women still see as oppressive housework. She turns to Child's book partly as therapy, partly as anthropology. Cooking used to be about cooking, but in so many ways it's became about politics, and the politics loosely start to take their toll on Powell's marriage. Powell's loving husband, having been trained to accept her as a professional equal, now has to learn to take his wife's kitchen work seriously. Paul Child is just as fully evolved, but free of any angst over his wife's success. He's rooting for her.
Because the movie turns on plot points no bigger than "Will my book be published?" and "Is the boeuf bourguignon overdone?," Julie & Juliamay be dismissed as insubstantial fluff, a ditzy "women's picture." And it's true that Nora Ephron doesn't rank among our nation's deepest thinkers, though she shows a surer directorial hand here than she has before. Still, the relationship at the heart of this movie-between a female mentor and pupil who never meet but who share a common passion and a drive to reinvent themselves-is one you don't often see depicted in the movies. Julie & Julia makes deboning a duck a feminist act and cooking a great meal a creative triumph.
The Worst Julie & Julia Puns [Humor Slays Me]