Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Rotten Ingrediants [A Movie Review]

Julie & Julia
Opened August 7th 2009
Directed by Nora Ephron
Screenplay by Nora Ephron

Bon Appetit!, The phrase, when carried by her unique voice is at once identifiable. Julia Child is a cooking icon and even those who didn't grow up in her heyday are familiar enough with her to smile at the thought of the charming, if awkward way she carried herself. Julie & Julia simultaneously strives to explore how Julia Child the woman became the icon, and what exactly her legacy is. The "Julia" half of the movie begins with Julia Child's (Meryl Streep) arrival in France, and her quest to find "something to do" -- which of course quickly becomes her track to cooking stardom. The "Julie" half of the movie follows Julie Powell (Amy Adams) circa 2002, in the wake of 9/11, as she moves to Queens with her husband Eric (Chris Messina) and begins to literally work her way through Julia Child's first cookbook-- Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

If it needs to be said, let it be said outright that Meryl Streep is an absolute star, and-- if the trailer weren't evidence enough, let me assure you-- breathes life into the role of Julia Child. The entire "Julia" section of the film is a thoroughly charming experience, that is carried not only by Streep but by many the supporting players as well. If writer/director Nora Ephron had left the film at this, it would have been well on its way to being an uncomplicated, but nice and thoroughly entertaining film. Unfortunately this isn't the case.

The problems with the "Julie" section of the film aren't immediately identifiable. Largely it's buttressed by the "Julia" section, and so its problems are difficult to identify without a certain amount of retrospect. It begins innocently enough-- Julie is in a tough situation, and empathy is fairly easily found, but as this section of the film moves on its soullessness becomes obvious. When characters are laughing riotously at something the audience isn't, you know this to be the case. When a character is called a "bitch" and there's no evidence of it in the film, you know this to be the case. Be it actors or material, a lot of things just don't come out right in the "Julie" half of the film. It might be surprising to learn that the trailer-featured clip of Julie saying "No fear, Julia" to an old episode of Cooking with Julia Child is supposed to be a heartfelt moment of the film. It feels empty-- again, soulless-- and frankly poorly acted. There is very little heart in the Julie section of the film-- but good enough helping of sap. Chris Messina comes off as authentic as often as he comes across as fake, and it'd be surprising to learn Amy Adams was playing anything more than herself.

This most distressing, and nagging problem of them film is when the two sections come the closest to meeting. Julia Child-- still alive in 2002-- has a secondhand contact with Julie Powell in the film, and the result is dangerous. The unity of Julie & Julia is based on the similarity of the two narratives, which functions perfectly until this seemingly minor event. Within a span of less than five minutes a wedge is sledgehammered in between these two narratives in the way the film references the still living Julia Child. In a strange and unexpected way it puts the two protagonists at ends, and it's frustrating. If these protagonists are at ends, how can their narratives not be? Why have they been placed together? The event is no doubt is a true to life account, but it destroys all cohesion. Omission or prefabrication would have served the film much better, inaccurate though it might have been.

Julie & Julia is somewhat like a game of Janga. At the beginning the tower seems perfectly stable, but as pieces begin to disappear, so does the possibility of solidity. The Julia section of the film-tower keeps the game in play, but even this isn't enough to save it from crashing down.


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