If director Nora Ephron were half as passionate about cooking as she is about fame, this lighthearted, instantly forgettable trifle might have made for a satisfying cinematic meal. Unfortunately, when you stack up her parallel tales of celebrity — Julia Child and blogger-turned-Internet-sensation Julie Powell — against mouthwatering foodie fare like that of Babette's Feast or Big Night, Julie and Julia's inadequacies become obvious — namely: the absence of drama and very little of the joy of cooking.
Never a particularly strong filmmaker, the celebrated screenwriter (Sleepless in Seattle, Heartburn) focuses on the growing successes of her two characters rather than the challenging meals they create, or why they create them. Tragically, their culinary enthusiasm becomes little more than a means to an impersonal end, one landing a book deal while the other gains scads of online fans.
What keeps the film moving is an engaging, breezy pace and the likable performances of leads Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Neither is given much of a character and both manage to find depth where none was written. While Powell's an inherently uninteresting character, Ephron pushes her into a sitcom-style narrative, missing the opportunity to explore the narcissism and selfishness of her obsessions. Her entire marital conflict, the one hurdle she must overcome, amounts to 10 minutes of spousal alienation and then a quick reconciliation. Adams is referred to several times as a "bitch," yet we never really see that side to her.
Streep's Childs, on the other hand, is a force of nature, delightfully determined and surprisingly salty at times. Her performance occasionally crosses into camp but the actress is so clearly having a good time that the effect is infectious. And Streep and Stanley Tucci make an engaging couple. In fact, the entire affair smacks of chick-lit wish-fulfillment, with loving husbands faithfully standing by their ambitious wives.
Ultimately, Julie and Julia disappoints more for what it could've been, especially since Ephron fails to contextualize Childs' life or accomplishments. She assumes we know who this woman is and why we should care. Even then, she only devotes half a film to her story, leaving us hungry for so much more.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].
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