SHORT TAKE: “Julie & Julia” (***1/2)

Posted by · 9:14 am · July 28th, 2009

Julie & JuliaIt’s probably a little cliche to lead a review of Nora Ephron’s “Julie & Julia” with a phrase like “I’m not wired for movies like this.”  It ends up being a back-handed compliment to the film and doesn’t exactly illuminate why it’s a successful piece of work, but that is, nevertheless, the first thought that popped in when, to my surprised delight, I found myself falling in love with it.

Cleverly adapted from two novels by Ephron (Julie Powell’s “Julie & Julia” and Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme’s “My Life in France”), the film moves along at an airy but focused pace for an hour and a half or so before losing that momentum going into the third act, but along the way, it provides the expected showcase for a controlled Meryl Streep performance that couldn’t have been more “on.”

In some ways, it’s becoming almost unsettling, the acute level of precision with which Streep can flesh out a character.  Almost as if something’s off, like the paranoid feeling that seeps in when things are too “good.”  As chef Julia Child, Streep manhandles the role and makes it her own, exuding passion, dedication and a well-rounded personality that we’ve only truly known as a performance of sorts on TV throughout the years.

The film parallels the story of Child’s culinary awakening in Paris (accompanied by her loving husband, Paul Child, played by Stanley Tucci) with that of Julie Powell, living a modest but unfulfilled life in Queens and stumbling onto a raison d’être in Child’s cookbook.  Powell, annoyed at her knack for never finishing what she sets out to do, commits to cooking every recipe in Child’s book over the course of one year.

Meanwhile, four decades earlier on the streets of Paris, Child discovers a passion for food and cooking that will come to represent her own sense of accomplishment as she enrolls in a stuffy culinary academy.  Her husband Paul, a State Department employee assigned to the Paris embassy, is one of those too-good-to-be-true spouses that is nevertheless dimensionalized quite well by the always delightful Stanley Tucci.  Truly, other than Streep’s infectious performance, Tucci’s is the most heart-warming work in the film.

This powerhouse acting display — and obviously more captivating story — makes it difficult for Amy Adams to muscle in as Julie Powell, cooking up a storm and almost ruining her marriage to her unsettlingly understanding beau, but she brings the mousy devotee to life quite well.

An indulgent running time could have been trimmed by at least 10 minutes or so to allow for a brisker pace, but on the whole, “Julie & Julia” is a delightful ride, one packed with laughs and satisfying emotional beats, not to mention a lead performance that sticks the landing.  Enjoy with a nice bucket of popcorn (buttered and/or salted to taste), a box of Red Vines and fountain drink of your choice.




→ 25 Comments Tags: , , , , , , , | Filed in: Reviews

25 responses so far

  • 1 7-28-2009 at 10:21 am

    AmericanRequiem said...

    Best Actress or Supporting Actress?

  • 2 7-28-2009 at 10:24 am

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    “…’Julie & Julia’ is a delightful ride, one packed with laughs and satisfying emotional beats, not to mention a lead performance that sticks the landing.”

  • 3 7-28-2009 at 10:52 am

    Jim T said...

    The funny thing (sad actually) would be if the Academy thought that it would be too much to give her a 16th nomination one year after her 15th. Let’s hope they don’t.

  • 4 7-28-2009 at 1:00 pm

    j said...

    Well, it isn’t until they’re seniors that actors are given a real shot for 3rd Oscars from the Academy. Except for the extras’ union anyway.

  • 5 7-28-2009 at 2:07 pm

    Clayton said...

    DeNiro put on a ton of weight to play an old Jake LaMotta in Raging Bull…

    …but Meryl Streep somehow managed to add several inches in height to play Julia Child. Now THAT’S commitment to a role! ;)

  • 6 7-28-2009 at 3:03 pm

    Jim T said...

    Clayton, wait until that Michael Jordan biopic. You won’t be able to recognize her! :p

    Seriously though, she said that they hired really short people so she can look taller. High heels also helped.

  • 7 7-28-2009 at 3:23 pm

    Clayton said...

    Yes, yes…I saw her on Conan O’Brien’s show last night, and am aware of all that. Heh.

  • 8 7-28-2009 at 6:15 pm

    jess said...

    Correction : they hired “small men”

    Anyway, what happened to you, Kris ? 3 and a half stars ?

    Who cut your balls, dude ?

  • 9 7-28-2009 at 7:28 pm

    Sean said...

    I agree with this review. The film is filled with joy. You leave the theater in such a pleasant (and hungry) mood.

    I truly think Streep will win lead Oscar this year. For several reasons, one – she is amazing in it, two- she will not have competiton (sorry Mulligan fans, no name youngin against a box office star and acting legend?), three- make up for not winning last year, and four-too much catnip for voters to passover…true story, beloved icon, transformative role

  • 10 7-28-2009 at 8:49 pm

    leonardo said...

    I really see the third oscar coming for Meryl Streep for this one, in a leading role, not suporting. She has no competition this year, and is a role so diferent from Sophie’s Choice.
    I hope that Stanley Tucci get some recognition this year, at least a nomination in a suporting role. For the reviews, it looks like a nomination in the screenplay categoty too.

  • 11 7-28-2009 at 8:54 pm

    JR said...

    Just got back from an advance screening – you pretty much say it all for me!!! The movie was better than expected – I may be a girl but I’m not an Ephron fan. That said, Nora’s a famous foodie, which certainly must have helped.

    You hit the nail on the head about Tucci. His chemistry with Streep is fabulous. You never doubt the Childs’ passion.

    Meryl was indeed wonderful. Of course, all those skyscraper heels helped! Call me a curmudgeon but, when the great Jane Lynch appeared as her sister, I wondered what she would have done with the title role.

    Lastly, in some places, there’s been demonstrably less love for Amy Adams. I thought, given Ephron’s script and direction, that the redhead prevailed. My sense is that Adams refuses to trade on her innate charm. Somethings can’t be helped but she’s no Meg Ryan. Adams never made me squirm acting “cute.” A few moments came close but I couldn’t help but wonder if Ephron was behind it. There were too many other clear opportunities which Adams instead chose to keep real.

    I’m not sure this is Oscar material but it may be Ephron’s best work. In the end, I’m sure Streep will get her nod – probably for Best Actress. If so, Tucci better get the Supporting nod. He’s fantastic.

    Oh, one last quibble: I was near tears when Child finally gets her publishing notice, but why did Julia have to show the book to the camera before showing it to her beloved husband???

  • 12 7-28-2009 at 9:25 pm

    jess said...

    Streep deserves to win for a comedic role. She has been more successful in comedies this decade, it would be good if her win could reflect that.

    But you know she has the Globe in the bag.

    And I can’t see anyone but her winning this year.

    Swank won’t win a third.
    Cornish isn’t raved enough.
    Mulligan = remember Hawkins ?
    Ronan is too young and is not clearly lead
    Zellweger, Cruz, Thernon = too recent a win

    I thinks it’s Streep’s year. And the fact that it’s the only film with a female lead which has the potential to be a solid hit doesn’t hurt her chances either.

  • 13 7-29-2009 at 3:47 am

    John H. Foote said...

    J said — Nicholson won his third in ’97 — Streep has not win since ’82 despite drop dead brilliant work in “Out of Africa”, ‘A Cry in the Dark”, ‘The Bridges of Madison County”, “Adaptation”, “The Hours”, and “Doubt” — Hilary Swank and Jodie Foster have two for Best Actress, Meryl just one…sound just to you?? She is the greatest there has ever been…might be the finest actor, male or female…period.

  • 14 7-29-2009 at 6:07 am

    Jim T said...

    My view right now is that although there are some roles in which Smith, Dench, Redgrave and maybe Sarandon and Close would be just as good, there are some others that only Meryl knows how to nail. For example, I think that Dench might have been better in Doubt but she couldn’t play Julia Child . I guess it would be hard for any shakespearian actress.

  • 15 7-29-2009 at 6:24 am

    M said...

    You all are saying Meryl deserves to win but Have you guys seen the other movies as yet? An Education, Lovely Bones, Pecious e.t.c.

    I don’t like Swank so I dont’ want her to win or even be nominated, but to give Meryl the win because you think she deserves it after not winning in a while without seeing other performances is a little absurd.

  • 16 7-29-2009 at 6:54 am

    alluhrey said...

    it may not have been love at first sight, but mr. kristopher tapley, i think i might be loving you now for loving this meryl performance.

  • 17 7-29-2009 at 10:57 am

    Eunice said...

    I was excited about this one, but thanks to your review, I’m now pumped for it.

    Kris, just one question: If I watch this, will it erase any memory I have of “Bewitched”? :)

  • 18 7-29-2009 at 12:11 pm

    La Mathematicienne said...

    M: There may be other great performances out there, better than Streep, but remember that there’s also politics involved (remember last year?) Critical acclaim went to Anne Hathaway and Sallly Hawkins but look at them, Hawkins got snubbed and Hathaway lost.

    And as many people have said, Streep is to big to ignore this year, with 2 more movies, and the AMPAS seems to be aching to give her the third after she was so close last year

  • 19 7-29-2009 at 2:52 pm

    Gary of WEHO said...

    Geesh, after reading the critics positive reviews for J & J especially Streep’s performance, I am positively sure that Streep will win the Big O this year! If she loses, I’ll lose my faith with the Academy. Coming from Doubt last year, then J & J and then the Nancy Meyer project, there is no way she will lose this year! This is a heart-warming movie that alot of us will enjoy! If it is a big box office success, Meryl is the sure winner next year. Can’t simply wait. Give her her third people!

  • 20 7-30-2009 at 12:59 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    “I am positively sure that Streep will win the Big O this year! If she loses, I’ll lose my faith with the Academy.”

    A bit early for this kind of statement, no? Calm yourself ;)

  • 21 8-02-2009 at 8:04 pm

    JR said...

    I reiterate: If Streep gets the Oscar, then Tucci damn well better get it, too. Wonderful as she is in the film, I think the luster would have dulled some with a less formidable partner.

    Still, I beg to differ that Streep’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. In fact, when watching her, I never forget I’m watching Meryl Streep. That’s why so enjoyed her Julia Child – I almost did. At the same time, I’ll take Helen Mirren at her best (“Prime Suspect,” esp. the final season; “The Queen,” “Gosford Park”) over Streep any day.

  • 22 8-03-2009 at 6:27 pm

    Mike said...

    Go Streep. Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role of 2009. All the way. Kate Winslet even said it was her dream to give Meryl the Oscar next. I’m crossing my fingers.

  • 23 8-03-2009 at 8:28 pm

    Joel said...

    I’ve been interested in this since seeing the trailer in front of Proposal. Looks terrific, I think. Go Streep!

  • 24 8-27-2009 at 8:36 am

    Ross said...

    I think that Meryl will FINALLY get her third Oscar and it’s actually refreshing that it could happen for a comedy. In the last few years she just managed to change people’s attitude toward the bait factor of comedies. I still think that her performance in The Devil Wears Prada and Judi Dench’s performance in Notes on a Scandal were much more interesting and complex performances that Helen Mirren’s boring performance in The Queen. Sorry, fellas! I love Helen and I think she should have won for Gosford Park, but to me her performance in The Queen was a well calculated performance. Nothing more.

    I think that Meryl WILL win this year for a several reasons: a performance that’s really great! It’s not a typical heavyweight performance, which will help her as well! Her competition isn’t really strong. Her main rival seems to be Mulligan and she’s an unknown and too young actress. And of course, she has the momentum and Oscar is all about momentum. They know it’ll make a great moment and I think it’s about time. A lot of people agree.

  • 25 8-27-2009 at 8:37 am

    Ross said...

    I think that Meryl will FINALLY get her third Oscar and it’s actually refreshing that it could happen for a comedy. In the last few years she just managed to change people’s attitude toward the bait factor of comedies. I still think that her performance in The Devil Wears Prada and Judi Dench’s performance in Notes on a Scandal were much more interesting and complex performances that Helen Mirren’s boring performance in The Queen. Sorry, fellas! I love Helen and I think she should have won for Gosford Park, but to me her performance in The Queen was a well calculated performance. Nothing more.

    I think that Meryl WILL win this year for a several reasons: a performance that’s really great! It’s not a typical heavyweight performance, which will help her as well! Her competition isn’t really strong. Her main rival seems to be Mulligan and she’s an unknown and too young actress. And of course, she has the momentum and Oscar is all about momentum. They know it’ll make a great moment and I think it’s about time. A lot of people agree. And of course, they want to make-up for all the snubs in the past, because Meryl deserved Oscars for performances like that in Silkwood, A Cry in the Dark and Adaptation. They know it.