Julie & Julia puts the wonderful Meryl Streep into the shoes of Julia Child, the famously warm and down to earth American chef with her own cooking show on television. The film is the vessel for agreat narrative and an excellent performance from Ms. Streep. But as enjoyable as it was, there were some glaring flaws.
The story is really an amalgam of two stories. We follow Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a government worker stagnating in her cubicle, slowly approaching her thirtieth birthday as she watches her friends swoop past her with their high-powered careers. Her friend’s venture into the world of blogging compels her to pursue her own blog. Julie decides that she will cook her way through Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) cookbook of 524 recipes in one year. By the end of her journey, she becomes discovered by the New York Times and publishes her own book.
The movie tries to establish Julie’s life as a loose reflection of Julia Child’s life. Julia Child climbs her way from government clerk-turned housewife to author of a cookbook. Julie’s story starts off with a strong energy and establishes a solid base of emotion that explains what could motivate her to adhere to such a disciplined regimen of cooking. But later, the emotional momentum seems to taper off and we’re left with what seems to mostly a straightforward narrative account.Because Julie and Julia doesn’t have any particular cinematographic merits, the attention is focused primarily on the narratives. The two stories are quite hopeful and entertaining. But they fall flat in terms of an emotional payoff. Julie’s triumph that comes in the form of her book deal doesn’t seem to be all that rewarding. Julia Child’s story is far more interesting and holds us in a paradoxical suspense: we already know that she achieves fame, yet we want to see exactly how she got there. Julie on the other hand is not a very interesting character.It seems as if the screenwriter was more interested in creating a biography delivered in an entertaining format. It doesn’t quite achieve any dramatic breakthroughs.I foundthe attempted allusions to Julie and Julia’s lives to be weak and uninteresting. There is nothing profound about the similarities between their lives. It is perhaps serendipitous, but certainly nothing to write home about. I could easily make my life seem rather similar to any number of my personal heroes.
Then there’s Eric Powell, Julie’s husband. About an hour and twenty minutes into the movie, the seemingly happy couple have a major breakdown out of nowhere. Eric starts ranting about how the blog has turned her into a narcissist and proceeds to storm out of their apartment.At no point did we see any particular stressor to this scene.We never see any of this tension building up. In fact, in the previous scene, the two were laughing heartily at a parody on television. Eric is portrayed as unsupportive, sarcastic, and essentially a prick. It is entirely uncharacteristic and unfounded. How it happened in real life is irrelevant: from a screenwriting perspective, it’s sloppy. Another point of sloppiness appears near the end. The movie makes no attempt to explain why Julia Child does not care for Julie’s blog. It seemed to be a little extraneous detail. It feels like the screenwriter just decided to throw in bits and pieces of the real account out of whimsy.
I expected to see how Julia Child affected Julie Powell’s life in a profound way. Instead, the movie is essentially nothing more than an entertaining and well-structured amalgam of two different lives in two different times. The two stories weren’t tightly woven enough to make a compelling whole. This isn’t to say that the movie wasn’t enjoyable. Meryl Streep’s performance is a joy to behold, and seeing her 5’6″ frame appear as a significantly taller 6’2″ is an enjoyable illusion to entertain. And although the task of weaving two narratives together is no small feat, the movie would have done better if it focused on either story rather than both. I personally left wanting to see Julia Child’s ascension to iconic home-stay of the domestic life, but I guess Julie & Julia will suffice.