MOVIE REVIEW- Streep's success: Stick a fork in her...
The movies are getting kinkier. On the heels of Humpday (no local booking scheduled), which is about "two straight dudes bonin'," comes Julie & Julia, in which the climax is about a woman boning a duck.
But seriously...Two habitual Oscar nominees rise to this year's shortlist in the title roles of Julie & Julia, based on autobiographical books by Julie Powell (Amy Adams) and Julia Child (Meryl Streep).
Screenwriter-director Nora Ephron tells their stories on parallel tracks, allowing similarities in the narratives to develop organically and sometimes occasion a cut from one to the other. Only once does she yield to the temptation of flash-cutting between the two in a montage.
The legendary Child is introduced in 1949, arriving in France with her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci). (Perhaps forgetting which movie they're in, someone says Julia was 40 years old and a virgin when she met Paul. Actually she had just turned 34 when they married in 1946.) Looking for something to occupy her time ("Wives don't do anything here"), she enrolls in the Cordon Bleu to learn to cook.
We meet Powell and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) in 2002 as they move from Brooklyn to Queens. Working a post-9/11 government job taking calls from distraught, angry people all day, Julie unwinds by coming home and cooking dinner. Having given up on writing a novel but needing a creative outlet, she starts a blog. The idea is to cook all 524 recipes in Child's masterwork, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in 365 days, and write about the experience.
Child's goal is slower to define itself. She's unable to find a good French cookbook with an English translation. (Larousse Gastronomique would coincidentally be translated into English in 1961, the same year Child's book is published.) While toying with the idea of writing her own cookbook "for servantless Americans," she meets two French women, Simone "Simca" Beck (Linda Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey), who have already started such a book but need a collaborator to help Americanize it; so they become "Les Trois Gourmands."
Julie and Julia both face obstacles and put strain on their marriages, despite incredibly supportive husbands, and both prevail in the end. Each story has a natural, almost inevitable conclusion, yet Ephron has trouble wrapping up the movie. She builds some suspense around whether the women will ever meet (Child lived until 2004, two days short of her 92nd birthday, so it's a possibility) and dithers around, constantly reemphasizing how much Julia influenced Julie.
Extraneous characters also stretch the movie beyond its optimum length. Jane Lynch appears as Julia's similarly tall and boisterous sister and Mary Lynn Rajskub plays Julie's best friend and confidante.
Despite some little bumps, when Julie & Julia is on a roll, which is most of the time, it rocks. It might qualify as a dramedy but the comic elements are far stronger than the dramatic ones.
Streep captures Child's humanity while also doing an uncanny impersonation that can't help being somewhat caricatured, considering the woman's over-the-top personality. (For comparison, a clip from Dan Aykroyd's 1978 SNL version of "The French Chef" is included.)
Adams finds a lot of humor, even in Julie's "meltdown over aspic" and her frustration at having "to murder a crustacean" to make Lobster Thermidor, but she makes her serious moments register too.
Appropriately for a story of two women with the shared belief that butter makes everything better, Julie & Julia goes down like butter. Julia could be speaking of the movie when she says, "Even if it isn't perfect– no excuses, no explanations."