Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Romcom Review - Julia and Julia


Julie and Julia: Is it technically a romcom? Well, it's directed by Nora Ephron, whose pedigree includes our benchmark best-romcom-of-all-time When Harry Met Sally, (mind you, she's also responsible for the execrable Sleepless in Seattle* - which, despite the title, ended up on top of the Empire State Building in NYC, go figure) and a number of other Romcom crimes, so you can make your own mind up on that one. (*you're probably wondering why that link? Anything, and I mean anything is better than Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks...)

I'm calling it a romcom, though. There's romance. There's comedy. If it looks like a duck, and it sounds like a duck...

Julie and Julia is an odd film. The tagline declares that it's 'Based on two true stories.' Technically, this isn't quite accurate: it's really based on:
  • The seminal cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.
  • The vaguely autobiographical book Julie and Julia, by Julie Powell, which is in turn based on;
  • Her blog The Julie/Julia Project, in which she documented her efforts to stave off a nervous breakdown by cooking her way through the entire 500+ recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking during a 12 month period, in the tiny kitchen of her small, dingy apartment in Queens, NYC.
  • Julia Child's biography My Life in France
Can you say 'Metafiction', boys and girls?

From this, you'd think the film would have the potential to be a mishmash of ideas and stories.

And you'd be right.

Here's the odd thing, though - Ephron is a clever director and storyteller, and I initially walked out of the film (which we saw last saturday afternoon) declaring 'I really enjoyed that!' And I did. It was good brain candy. We'd won free tickets to see it, too, so the price was about right for the film.

In the five days since, though, a few little things about the film have started to retrospectively bug me. Little things - the somewhat overworked layering of the two protagonists' lives onto one another - the implication being that Julie Powell's life very nearly mirrored that of Julia Child. The bizarre 'where are they now' titles at the end of the film which - apart from being the worst kind of Deus ex Machina device for wrapping up a plot - also include perhaps the most utterly mindless caption I've ever seen: "Julie Powell's book was turned into a film" Well, duh. (Hint to Nora: Metafiction works best when you don't have to point it out to the audience.)

Does this make it a successful or unsuccessful film? Not sure.

Certainly the 'Julia' part of the film is beautiful - set for the most part in 1950's Paris, teaming Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci (Last seen together in The Devil Wears Prada - though in a *slightly* different relationship), and operating against the background of the McCarthy witchhunts, this story alone would have made an effective biopic. Julia Child was, by all accounts, a remarkable woman, and her husband too. Had Ephron focussed her considerable filmmaking talent solely on this side of the story, the film could have been a real groundbreaker. (Also in this storyline, and in a piece of genius casting, you'll get to see Glee's Jane Lynch playing the role of Julia Child's 6"2' sister - I kept waiting for her to declare "and that's how Sue sees it!")

The 'Julie' part of the film - less successful. There's nothing intrinsically wrong with it, and Amy Adams is a competent enough actress to fill the role but at the same time there's nothing intrinsically interesting about it either: A woman hates her job, has a shitty apartment, cooks a lot and blogs. Good for her, but when juxtaposed against Julie Child navigating the minefield of the French culinary establishment during the 1950's while her husband was persecuted by Senator Joe McCarthy, it just doesn't really hold a lot of interest. And yet, to my mind at least, this seems to be the story with which Ephron was most invested.

So is it a successful film? Yes. And No. It's worth seeing, if just for Streep and Tucci's performances, and the glorious scenes of Paris in the 50's. The food is good too. (A warning: we'd planned to have takeaway Chinese for dinner on the day after we saw the film. We ended up going home, digging out our copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and making Boeuf Bourginon. And it was gooooood...)

My Score: .68 WHMS

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