Warm notices for Streep in ‘Julie & Julia’

Posted by · 12:45 pm · July 24th, 2009

Meryl Streep in Julie & JuliaEven before anyone had laid eyes on Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia,” I felt fairly confident in predicting the critical response: nice, unremarkable film dominated by a broadly entertaining, larger-than-life turn from Meryl Streep.

And so it has come to pass. The trade papers are united in their lukewarm feelings on the film itself, while Streep comes in for the expected praise for a showy star turn a showy star role. (Meanwhile, poor Amy Adams gets predictably, if charitably, sidelined, despite her joint billing.)

Variety’s Justin Chang is harshest on the film, calling it “overstuffed and predigested … a slick, presumptuous vanity project,” but has nothing but kind words for Streep’s “delightfully daffy” performance:

Doing her formidable best to counteract (the film’s) drawbacks is Streep, whose 5-foot-6 frame makes her an imperfect physical match for the 6-foot-2 Julia, but who proves more than up to the challenge of tackling this beloved celebrity’s equally outsized personality. Delivering an elegant approximation of the woman’s distinctly flutelike vocal pitch and endearing mannerisms, Streep abundantly conveys the warmth, rich humor and joie de vivre so evident in Julia’s TV appearances and her writing.

Kirk Honeycutt’s Hollywood Reporter review is more gently critical of the film, declaring it enjoyable but lacking in nuance, and besotted with Streep:

Another Streep marvel … Streep delivers yet another uncanny impersonation, getting every shade of the famously hearty voice and extravagant, life-loving personality that was Julia.

However, Screen International’s Fionnuala Halligan, while admiring of Streep’s craft, raises concerns that it might not register with those unfamiliar with Julia Child herself:

Child was a Cordon Bleu chef with distinctive physical attributes and eccentric, if not downright campy, mannerisms, which Streep largely nails. But Ephron does not help the uninitiated – that is to say the younger viewer or international audiences who haven’t seen Child’s TV shows – by providing any footage or context upfront. Thus it takes a while for Streep’s initially alarming performance – more reminiscent of her turn in Mamma Mia! than Doubt – to sink in.

(I guess if I had to choose between Streep’s turn in “Mamma Mia!” or “Doubt,” I’d pick the former, but it’s not an appetizing comparison. Anyway.)

Anyway, regardless of the film’s reception, these notices will likely spur on the Oscar talk for Streep, though her cause would be helped if the older female target audience embraces the film as they did “The Devil Wears Prada.” Streep’s campaign for the latter was a relatively easy one, but still benefitted from the film’s better-than-expected critical notices and surprisingly broad awards reach. (It may have got only two Oscar nods, but Screenplay and Supporting Actress were near misses, while I suspect it was closer to a Best Picture nod than most people think.)

“Julie & Julia” might lack those advantages as an awards horse, and there’s still the question mark of Nancy Meyers’ “It’s Complicated”: a similarly comedic vehicle that, should Streep also get strong notices for it, will be far fresher in voters’ minds given its December release.

Could a vote-split damage the actress’s chances of a nomination? Or could the Academy’s biopic hard-on keep “Julia” ahead all along? Or could she duck into supporting after all, as was initially speculated, and shoot for the double nod? Far too early to speculate, of course — and all these questions are easily answered if “Something Good” turns to be, well, not — but it’s an interesting situation.

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39 responses so far

  • 1 7-24-2009 at 1:04 pm

    Gary of WeHo said...

    What about this, Meryl Streep will be nominated for Best Actress for Something Good & Best Supporting Actress for Julie & Julia. It’s Kate Winslet part deux! Of course, Meryl winning the Oscars at the end! Meryl is a formidable force this coming award season. As I have mentioned before, She deserved to win this year!!!! She will not stop until she has the Big O #3! Can’t wait!

  • 2 7-24-2009 at 1:13 pm

    leonardo said...

    The reviews only confirm what so many expected: nomination number 16 on the way ( I hope in the leading category ), and maybe the third oscar that everybody is wainting for. Is “the year of the woman” in movies, and what a chance to honor her biggest artist in the last 30 years. And for a role that is not the ussual dramatic turn with all the suffering and the drama, and the tears, but a nice role, cute, charm and funny. Totally different for Sophie’s Choice.
    And i don’t think the Nancy Mayers film gonna do something great for Meryl, maybe at the boxoffice, but not the oscar kind of performance ( Maybe just a nomination, and a Golden Globe win in the comedy category, like Diane Keaton, but nothing more ).

  • 3 7-24-2009 at 1:32 pm

    Amanda said...

    Poor Amy Adams gets the shaft yet again. I love having her an Meryl in one movie but the girl gets nothing from nobody when they are together.

  • 4 7-24-2009 at 1:45 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    I haven’t gotten around to my thoughts but I actually loved this films. Streep/Tucci had my heart. And it’s quite a clever adaptation.

  • 5 7-24-2009 at 1:59 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Great to hear. Can’t say I saw that coming.

  • 6 7-24-2009 at 2:08 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    As I understand the academy’s system of voting, there is no such thing as “vote-split damage” as long as the votes for both performances are in the leading category. I believe it works this way: if Streep gets, say, 450 nomination votes for “Julie and Julia” and 300 nomination votes for the Nancy Meyers movie, she is treated as having 750 votes for “Julie and Julia” and the performance in the Nancy Meyers movie is disregarded. If, however, the votes go into separate categories, she ends up with 450 votes in supporting for “Julie and Julia” and 300 in lead for the Nancy Meyers movie.

  • 7 7-24-2009 at 2:08 pm

    tim said...

    Amy Adams gets the shaft again? She was Oscar nominated for her role in Doubt. Streep usually just gets the flashier roles (as is the case here) and always nails them, it’s practically impossible to overshadow her. It’s an honor to even work with the woman, let alone twice.

  • 8 7-24-2009 at 2:12 pm

    T.S. said...

    I’ll admit that I’m looking forward to the film for Streep and Streep alone (I like Adams a lot, actually, but I’m so afraid her half of the film, in tone and structure, might be too cloying; here’s hoping I’m wrong).

    My wife just finished the book, and while liking it and saying she’s also looking forward to the film, she lamented the fact that with this, we’ll probably not due for an actual Julia Child biopic any time soon, which is a shame because she’s such a dynamic personality. I remember watching the PBS American Masters documentary on Child; her life, and not just the glorified culinary elements of it either, could fill multiple movies for sure.

  • 9 7-24-2009 at 3:01 pm

    Guy Lodge said...

    Frank: I’m pretty sure that the performances are counted individually and the first one to reach the required vote quota is the one that gets the nod. If neither performance reaches the quota on their own, no nomination.

  • 10 7-24-2009 at 3:06 pm

    Jim T said...

    I think the only way for Meryl to get a third Oscar this year is J&J supporting. Both roles aren’t “serious” enough for the win as leads.

  • 11 7-24-2009 at 3:38 pm

    Xavi Rodriguez said...

    “Both roles aren’t “serious” enough for the win as leads”.

    Well Tim I believe is relative. In the history of Oscars, the veterans have more luck in comedic roles: Jack Nicholson, Lee Marvin (I still didn’t understand how he won for this performance) and Glenda Jackson are perfect examples.

    I think, if the competition is still rare or became too weak, La Streep has strong chances for winning a second Lead Oscar:

    -At her 60s, she’s the third most succesful actress in box office (Only behind Angelina Jolie and -strangly- Jennifer Aniston). If “Julie & Julia” is too succesful will be a third Streep’s box office hit in only four years!
    -Her competition is too strange: Newcomers (Mulligan, Cornish, Sidibe), recent winners (Mirren, Cruz, Swank) and foreign language performers (Mezzogiorno, Tautou, Cruz, Aghdashloo).
    -If Katherine Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman (And I love her), Jack Nicholson and Walter Brennan won a third/fourth Oscar for lesser performances…
    -Maybe Julia Child isn’t a classic Oscarable character but still is an iconic personality.
    -There isn’t another Kate Winslet this year (Maybe La Pfeiffer, but she has problems with the film)

    Sorry for the reasons, but we’ll see how is the film’s response in August 7th and the competition.

  • 12 7-24-2009 at 4:02 pm

    leonardo said...

    Xavi: I’m completly agree with you. And is so boring that every year the oscar goes to performances of people with depressive problems, crazies, sicks, assasaians, psico killers, bipolar, i mean, only dramatic roles, where the more you cry or scream, is better. It’s time to put a fresh performance winning an oscar, funny, nice, cute, but also powerfull, and Meryl’s performance is of that kind. And is better on the lead, in my opinion.

  • 13 7-24-2009 at 4:28 pm

    red_wine said...

    ” I guess if I had to choose between Streep’s turn in “Mamma Mia!” or “Doubt,” I’d pick the former, but it’s not an appetizing comparison. Anyway. ”
    I laughed out loud at that.

    But yeah, I remember I loved Blunt in Prada. She looked so beautiful.

  • 14 7-24-2009 at 4:37 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    This is a clear lead performance that will have NO trouble getting a nomination. That’s my take from here, anyway. Putting her in supporting would be unfortunate. There was talk of it early on, but after seeing the film, I can’t imagine it not being campaigned as a lead.

  • 15 7-24-2009 at 4:43 pm

    Frank Lee said...


    You may be right, and I may be misremembering this, but I seem to recall that I was reading once about how you cannot get double-nominated in the same acting category, and this system of combining votes from different movies was how they protect an actor who has two good roles in one year from getting shafted by split allegiances. Isn’t it strange that the academy does not have a thorough explanation of their voting procedures on their website?

  • 16 7-24-2009 at 5:35 pm

    Regina said...

    Maybe she’ll be nommed in both categories and win both? *wishful thinking*

  • 17 7-24-2009 at 5:54 pm

    j said...

    In terms of all acting categories, I don’t think there’s anyone as of right now I’d like to see win more. Last year was not the case.

    I do hope that Tautou, Cornish, and Williams land nods. Saoirse getting a second would be interesting just because of historicness and “omg Winslet’s successor” talk. And I do not want Swank at all.

  • 18 7-24-2009 at 6:06 pm

    j said...

    I looked up the history, and interestingly Bergman, Hepburn, and Nicholson all didn’t get their 3rd until they were senior-ish age. Which Streep has just entered…

    And Brennan, they were all supporting and there’s that extras voting thing.

    As for box office, it’s interesting because it wasn’t until Prada that Streep really became a box office draw. Her other 100 mil-ers are Kramer vs. Kramer 30 years ago and A Series of Unfortunate Events which I’m guessing didn’t have an audience made up of Streep devotees.

  • 19 7-24-2009 at 6:10 pm

    billybil said...

    Although I was chastised this past Spring for suggesting that Streep should win Best Actress this year no matter who else was nominated – and, of course, it didn’t happen – I must write now that the thought of Ephron giving Streep some sort of wonderfully complex and emotionally intricate role in that movie that would justify not only a nomination but a WIN! and then having Meryl ALSO WIN Best Sup A for Julie & Julia makes me giddy. Now that would be an entirely appropriate way to honor her talent and place in history. Yeah, like it could ever happen!

  • 20 7-24-2009 at 6:38 pm

    Clayton said...

    Her place in history is already secured by her critical and popular acclaim, and her countless award nominations. Winning is fine and all, but it usually comes down to politics more than anything else. She’ll win another Oscar, but it could very likely be for a lesser performance (by her standards). And so it goes.

  • 21 7-24-2009 at 8:07 pm

    Frank Lee said...

    “Out of Africa” was a big fat hit for Streep back in the 1980s.

  • 22 7-24-2009 at 9:37 pm

    Ben M. said...

    Yeah, even if the film isn’t great, I see her getting a nom for this. On a somewhat unrelated matter, the trades also reviewed Funny People today and while they had some positive things to say about it, they were not the great reviews I thought the film may be getting.

  • 23 7-24-2009 at 10:07 pm

    j said...

    Adjusted for inflation, US
    Deer Hunter: $150
    Manhattan: $108
    Kramer: $286

    Worldwide, although estimates iffier since inflation in US doesn’t=inflation worldwide:
    Mamma Mia: 603 million
    Out of Africa: (174 US) = half a billion
    Prada: 360 million
    Bridges: (121 US) = 300 million
    Death Becomes Her: (101 US) = 260 million

    Looks like a # of her movies do better worldwide.

  • 24 7-24-2009 at 11:22 pm

    Sylva said...

    I’m with Kris…the film is surprisingly outstanding, and audiences are going to lap it up. Streep should have no problem landing nom. #16, and I sincerely hope Adams’ sure-to-be-underrated work at least gets some Globe love as well.

  • 25 7-24-2009 at 11:28 pm

    Georgie said...

    I may just be in the theaters on opening day for this movie, if only to see The Lovely Bones trailer and Streep ace another acting role.

    I’ve seen Coco Avant Chanel, and Tautou was underwhelming in that… really hoping that Ronan and Mulligan both get nominated.

  • 26 7-25-2009 at 3:18 am

    j said...

    From the reviews I’ve read of Chanel, the film is just okay but Tautou shines. Other actresses have won despite just-okay films, possibly Streep will here, so I hope she at least can grab a nom. Although mostly my desire comes from how much I liked Dirty Pretty Things & A Very Long Engagement (notsomuch Amelie).

  • 27 7-25-2009 at 7:26 am

    M said...

    I am not surprise than many might not like the film. I’m sorry but the trailer did nothing for me. So I doubt I will watch it.

    This year the Best Actresses will be really competitive, so i don’t know if she will get in with just an okay film. However the academy loves Streep so we will see.

  • 28 7-25-2009 at 10:53 am

    Eunice said...

    Guy, according to the IMDB website, the Nancy Meyers movie is now titled “It’s Complicated.” Just wanted to give you a heads-up.

  • 29 7-26-2009 at 1:14 am

    alluhrey said...

    just a correction: the variety review was by justin chang. isn’t todd mccarthy the one who wrote the “doubt” review and who created the negative bandwagon about streep’s performance with the word “iffy”?

  • 30 7-26-2009 at 2:50 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Eunice: Duly noted. Thanks for the tip.

    Alluhrey: Thanks for the correction. As for “Doubt,” I wouldn’t say McCarthy particularly started a “bandwagon.” He didn’t like the performance and a number of people (myself included) happened to agree with him. Simple as that, really.

  • 31 7-26-2009 at 6:17 pm

    John H. Foote said...

    Streep is the greatest actress in the history of the cinema — anything she does is marked of artistry and in some cases true genius — is there anybody better, and has there ever been????

  • 32 7-27-2009 at 12:03 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “anything she does is marked of artistry and in some cases true genius”

    Oh John, did you see Mamma Mia?

    I kid, I kid. I wouldn’t necessarily say she’s the greatest of all time — Liv Ullmann is a serious contender for me — but she’s a remarkable actress, among the best we have. I just don’t think she’s infallible, and for me, she was way off her game last year.

  • 33 7-27-2009 at 6:14 am

    Eunice said...

    @Guy: Yeah, she was off her game last year. I expected to feel what Streep’s character felt, given the context of the story of “Doubt”, but I watched “Doubt” and felt surprisingly unsatisfied. I understood Sister Aloysius’ motivations, but felt like they weren’t fully fleshed out. If we’re comparing Sister Aloysius to another unsympathetic Streep character like Miranda Priestly, Streep made me side with the latter, which is what she should’ve been able to do with the former as well. Just sayin’.

  • 34 7-27-2009 at 6:29 am

    alluhrey said...

    @guy lodge: liv ullmann is a great dramatic actress. but ullmann has not shown a range that i would consider equal to that of streep. rewatching ullmann films, i see many of the same style, the same emotional responses and facial reactions that the actress uses to show her different characters. that is not to say that she isn’t good. she is very good—just limited, for me.

    streep, on the other hand, has shown consistent and even evolving excellence in a much broader genre.

    so you didn’t like “mamma mia!” (which film critic proprietary of his snobbish reputation did, anyway?). if i separate meryl’s performance from the flaws of the film, she was exceptional as to her investment in and understanding of the character. there was no moment there where she made fun of her character or the audience, despite the flimsiness of the material.

    so you didn’t like her “doubt” performance, too. but to one like me who was educated in a catholic school, she nailed sis. aloysius and all other nuns who i grew up and are familiar with. it was a showy performance, but so was the character, as she needed to be, in her battle against unwanted change, sexism, abuse, etc. it was performance that could not and should not have done “subtle” as many would have preferred. i guess it takes one steeped in the catholic context to fully appreciate meryl’s take on the character.

    so, i disagree with you —meryl was not way off her game last year.

  • 35 7-27-2009 at 7:05 am

    Liz said...

    I’m sorry, but “You have to be a Catholic in order to understand her performance” does not fly with me. If a movie is depending on its viewers’ background and religious affiliations to get its point across, then it is not a good movie. It’s the job of the filmmaker to get a point across and not depend on the viewer to fill in the blanks.

    Her performance could not have been done subtly? It worked with Cherry Jones onstage (ironic, since stage performances have a reputation of being much bigger than film performances).

    Like Eunice said, the audience should have identified with Sister Aloysius (even if they didn’t agree with her), but Streep played her one step short of a fire-breathing stereotype. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Father Flynn, and I’m not sure I was supposed to.

  • 36 7-27-2009 at 8:39 am

    alluhrey said...

    @liz: how you understand a film or a character is different from how appreciate or value the same. to me, the former is largely based on objective measures while the latter is subjective. read my statement again.

    i never saw cherry jones onstage, and saw only those that are available online. that was subtle to you? nuanced, yes, but not subtle. streep’s was full of nuances to me —but of the more intellectual rather than the emotional nuances. acting, to me, is not just feeling but thinking.

    i loved the performance for the reasons i just stated. you didn’t for reasons i think i understand. so we’re different.

  • 37 7-27-2009 at 10:55 am

    Eunice said...

    @alluhrey: I came from a Catholic school, a co-ed one run by priests, though, and I was born during the 90s, another factor. Catholicism is my country’s dominant religion. My country’s culture is also still quite conservative despite the passage of time and modernization, so that’s why I expected to be able to understand where Sis. Aloysius was coming from, because I know people like her. But I felt that her motivations were not fully realized/fleshed out/made more complex, so I was disappointed.

    I think equal blame should be placed on the writing and direction of the movie, since “Doubt” felt like a play to me, not the adaptation of one, and the stage and the screen are so different that adjustments should have been made. However, I feel that Shanley didn’t adjust enough for the movie. That might have been a cause of ‘disconnect’ for other viewers.

    I understand why you can relate to Sister Aloysius. Thanks for discussing why you thought Streep wasn’t “off her game”. I’ll have to respectfully disagree with you on that, though, and agree that La Streep is consistent and has shown evolution in her craft.

    Also, yeah, Streep took Donna Sheridan seriously in “Mamma Mia!” Granted, the material was flimsy, as you said, but she was completely invested in it throughout the movie. When she sang, danced, or just acted, she had the emotions in her, and that’s what made the movie enjoyable for me–the fact that the feelings still felt real. Plus, for someone who isn’t a singer and is at her age, she has great pipes and dancing skills.

    @Liz: I agree with your point. One doesn’t have to be a part of the demographic to understand the movie. However, in some movies/genres, sometimes who you are is a factor in getting the message. I mean, that’s the reason why we have a billion romantic comedies and action movies, right? Also, I believe it’s the reason why comic books are getting made into movies, because studios know that there’s a ready market for them.

    Anyway, yes, it is a disservice when a movie can’t cut across demographics, because movies should be able to explore and make themes, contexts, and characters universal. It was a shame, since “Doubt” could have helped people understand politics, not just in religion, but politics in general. With Sister Aloysius, we could have understood why people who are so certain and driven by their duty are still followed and respected, even when they’re wrong.

    I haven’t seen Cherry Jones’ performance, and I’ve only compared Streep’s Aloysius to her Miranda Priestly because I felt that they were similar. They were both powerful women who needed to reassert themselves in the face of men who try to diminish their influence (Flynn in Aloysius’ case and Irv Ravitz in Miranda Priestly’s.), and it was interesting to see how Streep would make Aloysius sympathetic and relatable. I just have to say that Aloysius should have been a more complicated character.

    If this keeps up, I might as well write a thesis on Meryl Streep. Haha.

  • 38 7-27-2009 at 10:19 pm

    alluhrey said...

    @eunice: this will be my final word on meryl’s sis. aloysius and i have been meaning to say it for a long time. she played the character the way a man would —over the top (and that’s just unacceptable for a woman)! but when we look at daniel day lewis in “there will be blood”, that was way over the top, with the veins almost popping on his forehead! and yet the latter is hailed, because that is how a man in that situation should behave and act!

    a lot of our responses to a film or a character are shaped by our own personal experiences, motivations, expectations and even biases, gender or otherwise.

  • 39 7-28-2009 at 5:39 am

    Eunice said...

    @alluhrey: Point taken. Thanks.