Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kitchen Nightmares

I considered walking out of Julie and Julia when the following words popped up during the opening credits: Directed By Nora Ephron. Movies directed by Nora Ephron range from, "It was okay, I guess," to "Think we could get our money back?" (Sleepless in Seattle being an example of the first, Bewitched being an example of the second.) Julie and Julia comes close to being in the first category. This is mainly because of the actors. Meryl Streep plays Julia Child with the level of perfection you take for granted in a Meryl Streep performance and Julie Powell, a woman whose worship of Julia Child turned into a popular blog, a successful book and, now, a movie in which she's played by Amy Adams. I must confess that I currently have a huge crush on Amy Adams and that I would become her stalker if doing that wasn't so much work. Seriously, I'm supposed to hang out in bushes in the middle of the night all the while being eaten alive by bugs just so I can occasionally see Amy walk by her windows? No thanks. Anyway, I can assure you that my love for Amy Adams will in no way affect this review.

Amy Adams' portrayal of Julie Powell is the greatest performance given by an actor ever. She should win not only this year's Best Actress Oscar but every one given out for the next decade.

But seriously, she was pretty good. There aren't many actresses out there who are more lovable than Amy Adams, a fact that can be confirmed by anyone who ever saw Enchanted or Junebug.

The movie actually tells two stories. One starts in 1949 when Julia Child moves to Paris with her husband, Paul, after he gets a job at the U.S. Embassy there. This is where she first encounters, and falls in love with, French cooking. This story is spliced with Julie's story which begins in 2002. Julie Powell moves to Queens with her husband, Eric. The most amazing thing about this movie is that their apartment actually looks like an apartment real New Yorkers might live in and not one of these gigantic lofts you normally see in movies and television that, in real life, would cost about five grand a month. Julie works for a city agency that compensates 9/11 victims, a job that understandably takes its toll as the people with whom she deals range from belligerent assholes to horribly sad and depressed people. She finds relief in her love of cooking, something that, if her husband is to be believed, she's very good at.

The story is advanced by showing the parallels between the two main characters. Despite her love of Paris, she quickly becomes bored as she is a childless housewife in a place where she barely speaks the language and knows hardly anyone. She takes up a series of hobbies, finally settling on a beginner cooking class at the prestigious Cordon Bleu. When she wants to move on to the more advanced classes, the administrator, a woman who clearly has contempt for her, uses extreme passive/aggressive techniques to try to talk her out of it but Julia ignores her and enters the class where, after some initial stumbles, she begins to shine thanks to her competitive nature. Julie also feels lost and without direction, wondering what the next phase of her life will be. That's when she gets the idea to start the Julie/Julia Project, a blog in which she describes her efforts to spend the next year cooking everything in Julia Child's first cookbook. I guess in 2002 she really stood out from an internet that mostly consisted of Britney Spears Worship Shrines and Geocities homepages that were almost all blinking red text on a black background because she winds up gaining a large readership.

Movies like this have no way to cover their flaws. At least with G.I. Joe, you have explosions, campy villains, fast-paced CGI effects and women like Sienna Miller and Rachel Nichols fighting each other in form fitting leather outfits. All that provides even the worst movie with some entertainment value. Julie and Julia, unfortunately, has no exploding spaceships, jetski chases or half naked Maxim models to distract the audience from what's wrong with it, unless you happen to have an Amy Adams crush. What is wrong with it? There's really no sense of urgency or some conflict that won't be overcome. Julie's husband walks out on her at one point when she becomes too obsessed with her blog. Do you really think he's never coming back? Julie laments the whole movie about a recipe that requires her to bone a duck. Do you really think that duck will remain bones intact? Julia Child's story is even less of a mystery. Oh no, her publisher loses interest in her cookbook. Even if you know squat about her, we know from the Julie scenes that her book does get published and that it was an international best seller that made her a star chef.

It had its moments and I suppose I can offer a tepid recommendation or, as I said earlier, "It's okay, I guess." It does have lessons to offer, like how natural talent is nothing without hard work or how worshiping and imitating a great person can help you find your own voice but, then again, I already knew all that. I wonder if Amy Adams will be so offended by this review that she will never, ever be mine. Maybe that stalking thing would still work.

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