“Don’t get too excited. It only leads to disappointment.”
That’s what a weary Bostonian told me one night when I expressed giddy enthusiasm before tasting her food. Her warning hasn’t stopped me from being eager about a lot of things, but her words have definitely stuck with me.
Julie & Julia is a much hyped movie I’m glad I maintained my cool about. I did my best to keep my excitement to a minimum and enter the theater with a general sense of calm. As a food blogger and child raised on Julia Child (our local, public television station was WGBH), I really wanted the film to be great. But the more reviews I read—one critic suggested that Meryl Streep’s Julia Child was reason enough to see the film but the food blogging story line was so boring it required a penlight and reading materials–the more I began to worry. Perhaps the narcissism of Julie Powell and the sickly sweet impulses of Nora Ephron would ruin the film. Would Julie & Julia be another hokey romantic comedy that would make me shiver with revulsion every time I passed by its movie poster?
In the hands of other actors, Julie & Julia could have been a disaster. But the honest and impressive artistry of the cast make this a savory film, rather than sickly sweet. The casting of Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Stanley Tucci is compelling enough to propel this movie into Oscar territory. Streep and Tucci as Julia Child and her husband, Paul, spark with chemistry. The simple moments—Streep’s darting eyes when she slices open an envelope holding potentially important news, Tucci’s physical comedy when he is forced to confront a mound of sliced onions, and Adam’s commitment to feel the frustrations of a sleep deprived woman cooking through the night—make watching the film a real pleasure. Despite real life Julie Powell’s flaws (she is nagging, bratty, selfish, narcissistic and oddly food-phobic), Adams manages to make her true-life character (somewhat) appealing. It is with lesser actors—Adam’s boss and best friends—that the weakness of Ephron’s scripting and direction become more obvious.
In Hollywood, Ephron is the go-to writer for stories of bitchy women that come to their senses after a run around the romantic comedy wheel. Julie & Julia requires from Ephron the use of an entirely different writing muscle. Since the two books she adapted for this film both have story lines with pre-existing husbands, Ephron is unable to fabricate her usual cute-meet scenarios. Ephron the screenwriter is bounced from her comfort zone and is forced to create something new. What results is a romantic movie that celebrates the existence of love, the art of cooking and the delicate dance required for a successful marriage.
What’s even more impressive to me—as someone that struggles with mastering the art of screenwriting—is how Ephron easily captures the art of writing on film. In what could be sappy diary writing, Ephron is very careful in how she shows Powell at the keys. Writing as a story point, isn’t very exciting, especially when the writing is blogging–a field relatively new to many. But thanks to Ephron’s script and direction, the moments when Powell (Adams) sits at the computer to write, does double duty for the story—making the audience feel like they are part witness and part blog reader. Creating a compelling writing scene for a writer on her laptop is not an easy task–just watch the pilot episode of Sex In The City and you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.
Julie & Julia may not be a perfect movie, but it is a keeper and a must have film for any food blogger’s DVD collection. So if you haven’t seen Julie & Julia yet, be sure to see check it out. But don’t go in expecting too much.