Directed by Nora Ephron
Julie and Julia
There was a time when Nora Ephron could write wonderful movies, both serious and witty: I’m thinking of “When Harry Met Sally” and “Silkwood,” which are among my own favorites. But somehow, starting with “Sleepless in Seattle,” I think her writing got a bit sloppy and she let the actors carry the words instead of the other way around. I say all this in sorrow rather than malice, because people tell me she is a lovely, talented woman.
Which leads us to “Julie and Julia,” a film I was looking forward to for many reasons, one of which is that I already have “Mastering the Art of French Cooking (both volumes 1 and 2) in my kitchen and I USE it. In fact I used to make classic French baguettes (from Vol. 2) every week. (Yes, Spokane is not a haven of French cooking.) The other reason has to do with Julia Child herself, whom I fell in love with back forty years ago when she did her wonderful PBS show from Boston. And now, Ephron has written and directed the film that cries out to be made about Julia Child, and fate has given her a way into the story by means of the real-life blog by Julie Powell, who decided in 2002 to make every one of Julia’s 524 recipes (from Volume 1) in one 365-day year. Because Julie was also a lovely writer, it seemed to make a perfect match.
Maybe so, but Ephron has turned it into an over-written, over-directed mess that demeans Child because Meryl Streep, as Child, has nothing but mannerisms to offer and Amy Adams as Julia comes through as a whiny Queens housewife with a very pert, if rather recent, nose. I kept looking at the nose instead of paying attention to what she was making. Instead of focusing on the very real accomplishments of both women, she match-cuts from one to the other, to show us no doubt just how hard real cuisine is to master. Yes it is, and there are dozens of wonderful stories to be told (and shown) about it, yet Ephron has avoided most of them. Stanley Tucci, as Paul Child, is a saint on earth, and Chris Messina, as Eric Powell, isn’t far behind. Great. But if you don’t have family tensions to deal with, why not focus on the cuisine itself? Somehow, it gets lost in the morass of the film.
Streep does her best to imitate Child, and does a more-than-creditable job. But somehow Child’s genius eludes her, and for this I blame Ephron. Child WAS a genius, one of the great women of the 20th Century, but Ephron tries her best to make her into just another mortal. She was not.