New Yorker semi-reviews ‘Julie & Julia,’ exalts Streep

Posted by · 3:48 am · July 4th, 2009

Meryl Streep in Julie & JuliaAs far as I know, Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” is still under a reviewing embargo, but the New Yorker’s Ariel Levy has sneakily buried a brief, incisive critique of the film at the tail of a substantial profile of Ephron. (Thanks to Jeff Wells for pointing it out.) You’ll need a subscription to read the whole thing, but here are the juiciest bits on the film — which will no doubt please the numerous Streepophiles out there:

The truth is, “Julie & Julia” is not a fair fight. For half he film we are in Paris with Julia Child played by Meryl Streep. It is pretty transcendent. For the other half, we are stuck in Long Island City, Queens, with the ‘lowly cubicle worker’ Julie Powell, a character who is immature, self-pitying, and frazzled (which is to say, an average human being). Powell is played by Amy Adams, who is a talented actress, but she is up against the queen herself.

When Adams, as Julie, is on the screen, it necessarily means that Streep, as Julia, is not, and you come to resent her for this. It is possible that the film would not have worked if it were simply a biopic of Julia Child — that it derives its narrative thrust and commercial potential from the interplay between a young woman idolizing and relying upon Child in the more-or-less present and the splendid story of Julia Child’s past. Perhaps Child is able to emerge in this film as an almost mythical creature because she is presented in contrast to a mere mortal.

But there may be another reason the Julia Child portions of “Julie & Julia” are so irresistably vivid and the Julie Powell bits feel a little flat. It is possible that Nora Ephron no longer understands half as well what it’s like to be ordinary as she understands being remarkable.

If such a viewpoint becomes the consensus when more reviews emerge, it will only add fuel to the fire for Streep’s awards campaign in the leading category. (You’ll notice that Kris recently promoted her in his predictions.)

Of course, a narrative like this seems designed to favor the flashier, larger-than-life personality — even when not on screen, Child is a formative influence in the contemporary parts of the story, whereas Powell has no presence whatsoever in the other half.

People will inevitably sympathize (or criticize, depending on their allegiances) with Amy Adams for having had to play second fiddle to Streep’s scenery-chewing in two consecutive films, even if they don’t actually share the screen on this occasion. That said, as someone who thought Adams handily outclassed her senior co-star in “Doubt” — admittedly, merely by being attentive onscreen while Streep careered off the rails — I prefer to judge this rematch for myself.

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44 responses so far

  • 1 7-04-2009 at 4:11 am

    Douglas said...

    It will be interesting to see if Hilary Swank and Meryl Streep are both nominated – the race to 3 oscars will be on!
    Although, I think I’m gonna die a little inside if Hilary Swank beats Meryl Streep to 3 oscars.

  • 2 7-04-2009 at 4:29 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I can’t foresee any scenario in which Hilary Swank wins a third Oscar. And I really like her.

  • 3 7-04-2009 at 4:43 am

    Mike said...

    Oh God no, not another Doubt.

  • 4 7-04-2009 at 4:59 am

    Eunice said...

    @Douglas: So will I.

    @ Guy: As a “Streepophile”, I’m pleased with the news, but if Nora Ephron couldn’t make both halves work, then somehow it’s a shame. I’m still looking for the director and the script that will give Streep her 3rd Oscar.

  • 5 7-04-2009 at 8:20 am

    red_wine said...

    Both were so thoroughly unremarkable that I have become a bit wary of Streep(even though I loved her previously) and come to dislike Adams. But I really hope Streep earns her likely inevitable nomination. People were saying in previews of Doubt that it was the Daniel Plainview of the year. It certainly was as flashy and attention-grabbing but it was also a phony piece of hokum. And Adams and Pitt were exactly the same, they just got nominated for appearing in their respective movies. I will never ever buy a Streep performance as great from now on unless I see it.

  • 6 7-04-2009 at 9:30 am

    MattyD. said...

    I do agree that Adams was much better in Doubt than Streep.

    The trailers for “Julie and Julia” are so endearing and sweet that I am really hoping that this is more than just a cute little film.

  • 7 7-04-2009 at 10:27 am

    leonardo said...

    I’m 100% sure that next year Meryl will get a nomination in the lead category, and 99% sure that she gonna win for Julie & Julia. Will be her 16º nomination and her performance, at least in the trailer and early reviews, looks both cute an powerfull. And let’s face, this year looks a little weak for female performances, and the good ones are from relative unknow faces in the industry: Abbie Cornish for Bright Star and Carey Mulligan for An Education. And in the last years Meryl Streep is rounding the oscar, especially since “Adaptation”. And also in the last years she became a box office success, with films like The Devil wears Prada and Mamma Mia, and she is already in her 60’s. I mean, who actress at that age can do that in Hollywood.
    And let’s face it, Kate Winslet won last year because the pressure of given her an oscar for anything was obvious, and she won for the weakest of her six oscar nominations. If she wasn’t in that position ( for example, that was her first or second nomination ) Meryl easily would have won last year.
    And, Hilary Swank, winning three of three, really, let’s be serious.

  • 8 7-04-2009 at 10:36 am

    tdr said...

    I really liked Adams in Junebug, but in Doubt I didn’t like her so much. And when she got nommed i felt that she was like a filler in the category- i would have much preferred to see Rosemary DeWitt get in.
    On the subject of Streep- she’s a legend and she’s always AT LEAST good in her movies. She gets much attention awards-wise, but two points:
    1) aside from the quality of the performance; she has become more of a default nominee;
    2) she’s consistently turned in good performances, but hasn’t won for 20 years, and she sort of has turned into a filler. I don’t think that this movie will get her her third statue.
    And in that line of thoughts I hope that she places in the category less crowded and less competative, so that she won’t take the place of someone else who has turned in the performance of her life.
    But it’s still too early to tell how are the performances. Anyway, just my two cents.

  • 9 7-04-2009 at 11:42 am

    Silencio said...

    I dunno, Swank looks really good in the Amelia trailer. I know three of three is absurd…but she looks damn good. But let’s keep an eye on Lovely Bones. Ronan might sneak in.
    Maybe even Swinton (Julia).

  • 10 7-04-2009 at 12:27 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Have you seen “Julia,” Silencio? Brilliant work by Swinton, but there’s no way the Academy is voting for that to win.

  • 11 7-04-2009 at 1:40 pm

    Lance said...

    I think that Jack Nicholson lost to Adrian Brody in 2002 because the Academy had already honored him enough. Swank could give the greatest performance in the world and I don’t think they’ll give it to her – at least not now. To give an actor three academy awards is to declare that person as one of the greatest actors of all time and I don’t think Swank has proven that to the academy as of now. I disagree with their philosophy; the oscars should be more like the emmys – it shouldn’t matter how many times someone has won – if they are the best, they should get the award.

  • 12 7-04-2009 at 1:47 pm

    jess said...

    There’s no excitement or anticipation for Amelia. Sure Swank is in, but she won’t win, the film seems so bland, not to mention she’s competing against Meryl Streep who, this time, is playing a REAL PERSON. Does the Academy like anything more than a star playing a real person ?

    Also, you know Amelia won’t make much money. On the other hand Julie & Julia will be a solid hit, adding to the power of La Streep.

  • 13 7-04-2009 at 2:27 pm

    Silencio said...

    Guy, I have not seen it. Just working from what I read/hear. And Swinton is one of those actors that can get away with more “out there” material, so I’ll have to see it before really being sure.

  • 14 7-04-2009 at 6:42 pm

    Tim said...

    Why can’t the best performance just win? I know it sounds absurd doesn’t it?

    And Amy Adams should have won for Junebug. I’ve loved her in everything she’s done so far, certainly won of the brightest new actresses to appear in recent years. She’ll get her Oscar some day.

  • 15 7-05-2009 at 3:29 am

    Eunice said...

    @jess: The Academy loves actors playing real people in biopics, but I don’t think Streep will win just because she played a real-life 5-star chef.

  • 16 7-05-2009 at 7:41 am

    Jim T said...

    Wouldn’t Meryl object to her being promoted as lead in this movie if the Meyers movie is good? I mean, it would be Meryl vs Meryl.

  • 17 7-05-2009 at 7:53 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    That’s what I was thinking earlier. I’ve been predicting a Best Actress nod for the Nancy Meyers film — providing it’s at least a “Something’s Gotta Give”-level hit.

  • 18 7-05-2009 at 9:41 am

    Eunice said...

    @Guy: That’s interesting. I’ve never considered that, but given “Something’s Gotta Give”, it is a big possibility. The Nancy Meyers movie will be shown in December, making it a possible contender, and thinking about it, it’s more likely to receive a Best Actress nod for Streep than Julie & Julia, especially if the reviews are better for the Nancy Meyers film.

  • 19 7-05-2009 at 2:43 pm

    jess said...

    wow, some people have no memory
    just this year, Winslet competed against herself in the lead category

  • 20 7-05-2009 at 3:17 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Yes, but she was initially campaigned (and in many cases, nominated) in both lead and supporting. It was the Academy who took matters into their own hands and decided she was a lead in “The Reader.”

  • 21 7-05-2009 at 4:11 pm

    lian said...

    I am rooting for Swank. I can’t stand Streep’s overacting.

  • 22 7-05-2009 at 4:16 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Personally, I think there are many viable ladies in this race besides Streep and Swank. Bit early to be “rooting” for one or the other.

  • 23 7-05-2009 at 6:48 pm

    KarlaT. said...

    Well I personally believe Meryl is one of the greatest if not the best american actress and Ive love every movie shes ever been, and I can honestly say she deserves a third oscar soon, besides the fact that I admire her, she should seriously have at least five oscars by now, for the bridges of madison county or silkwood or out of africa at least.

  • 24 7-05-2009 at 10:04 pm

    La Mathematicienne said...

    Well said, KarlaT. You pulled the words out of my mouth.

  • 25 7-05-2009 at 10:40 pm

    Eunice said...

    @jess: What guy said. The studios didn’t exactly resolve the issue and it took the Academy for us to figure it out. Also, if I’m not mistaken, she only competed against herself in the Golden Globes, not the Oscars.

    @Guy: Well said. I’m looking forward to see Saoirse Ronan in The Lovely Bones as well.

  • 26 7-06-2009 at 5:05 am

    Jake said...

    @Jess: Umm…both Streep and Swank are playing real people.

  • 27 7-06-2009 at 12:47 pm

    Gary of WeHO said...

    And the Oscar goes to…..
    Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia! ( I can’t wait to hear this from Kate Winslet next year!)

    That’s all!!!

  • 28 7-06-2009 at 2:04 pm

    leonardo said...

    Kate Winslet herself told in a forum in, that her dream is to give Meryl Streep the oscar for Julie & Julia next year. Like you said, i can’t wait to hear it.

  • 29 7-07-2009 at 8:06 am

    La Mathematicienne said...

    Really leonardo? Kate did say that? Whoa, I would love it to happen!

  • 30 7-15-2009 at 8:36 pm

    alluhrey said...

    leonardo, if kate winslet said that, then i’m more convinced that kate winslet is either guilt-tripping or ego-tripping for her undeserved oscar.

    i have a friend who we surprised on her birthday and she went into this spontaneous breath-heaving, face-distorting, hand-gesticulating, word-mumbling scene to express her mixed emotions. she later called it her “meryl streep over-acting moment”.

    i had to smack my friend to make her realize that that is how great meryl streep is as an actress— she observes human behavior very acutely and accurately translates that onscreen. many people here comment that she over-acts, but the fact is meryl streep SEES people in ways these people don’t or can’t or refuse to see themselves.

  • 31 7-16-2009 at 1:24 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Uh … wow.

    I think Streep is a great actress too. But jeez, some of you guys scare me. Ease up.

  • 32 7-16-2009 at 6:44 am

    Eunice said...

    @Guy: I know. I’m actually scared of the more rabid fans who say that “Mamma Mia!” is the best Streep movie ever. They obviously haven’t seen “Adaptation.” or at the very least, “Kramer vs. Kramer.” She’ll win, for the right material, and till then, I’ll be waiting.

  • 33 7-17-2009 at 7:07 am

    alluhrey said...

    @guy: only one who is unsure of his/her stand should be scared…i’m just willing to stand up to anyone for what i believe in.

    @eunice: i thought “mamma mia!” was really bad in many aspects, but found myself enjoying the experience of watching it. i’m also glad that “mamma mia!” connected streep to a much younger generation of fans who understandably have not seen her earlier works. but hey, that’s a great way to start an inter-generational appreciation for meryl streep!

    i really don’t care if she wins another oscar anymore.

  • 34 7-22-2009 at 10:28 am

    jason said...

    Hillary Swank is playing a tomboy. Now that is a stretch for her!!!!!! Just hand her another oscar. She is sooo versatile.

  • 35 7-24-2009 at 12:56 pm

    Gary of WeHo said...

    The Queen Meryl Streep will not stop until she gets her 3rd! I swear, she deserves it coming from Doubt, coming from the 16th films she got nominated & lost. Give it to her! She deserves it People! Academy voters alike!!!!!!

  • 36 8-10-2009 at 10:56 am

    Rosie said...

    It sounds as if Amy Adams found herself stuck with a thankless and unpopular role. I doubt that the movie is a reflection of her true talent as an actress.

  • 37 11-30-2010 at 6:10 am

    Gui said...

    Meryl Streep is a great actress, and I think that she deserved the 3rd oscar on “Julie & Julia”. She has worked so hard to get that 3rd… And she was absoluty great on this film! She was extraordinary!
    And Sandra Bullock didn’t desev an oscar for her performance! But I understand that she might not do another film like that…