Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, who last year both earned Oscar nominations for their work in Doubt, team up once again in Julie & Julia, a real-life cooking comedy. Though the two accomplished actresses both have leading roles, neither have a single minute of shared screen time. Despite the potential to be fragmented, director Nora Ephron does it again, providing audiences with a fun and enjoyable story that works more often than it doesn't.
Julie & Julia follows two women in two different periods of time: Julia Child, as she begins her cooking odyssey in post-WWII Paris, and Julie Powell, a low-level government worker in modern-day New York who has realized she has little to look forward to each day. On advice from her husband, Julie starts a blog, determined to cook every recipe in Julia's most popular cookbook. The movie, in a rather unique format, subsequently follows the two as their characters develop around their love of cooking.
The movie hinges almost completely on its two lead actresses, and both turn in fine performances. Streep, as Julia Child, is perfect. She exudes energy at every turn, providing audiences with a bubbly, eccentric character that's hard not to love. The character in another actress's hands could have been nothing more than a caricature, but as goofy and lighthearted as Julia Child is in the movie, Streep manages to establish an emotional connection with the woman. She's been nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, and it's possible she could receive an Oscar nomination as well. Her performance isn't as powerful as some of her past roles, but given a lack of competition, we could be seeing Streep once again come March.
Some critics have faulted Amy Adams' character arc as being much less interesting and impactful. It's true that the Julia Child segments are much more entertaining and interesting (if only due to Streep), but that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Julie Powell half of the movie is still effective. I still found myself invested in the character and her conflicts, even if they bear more similarities to those found in typical romantic comedies.
Credit should be given to Ephron as well. This is by no means the director's best work (it's hard to top Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally), but she does a masterful job of merging the two stories - based on two separate books. The transitions are seamless and at times very clever, and the underlying themes carry from one to the other quite well. It'd be interesting to learn what Julia Child would have thought, however, given that she didn't approve of Powell's work.
Julie & Julia does lack a certain "wow" factor, however. There's nothing in the movie that would encourage me to watch it again, and compared to some of Ephron's classics, the ultimate goal is a lot less clear. There is no overriding romantic arc or anything else; we know, more or less, what is going to become of the Julia Child story, and there isn't anything significant enough in Julie Powell's to drive the audience home.
Julie & Julia does suffer from some lopsidedness, but Nora Ephron balances her two stories as well as anyone could. It's not without its flaws, but Julie & Julia is a lighthearted, entertaining movie that won't just appeal to women.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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