Aug 24, 2009


Left: Too Cute to Be Deep?

Julie & Julia GPA: 3.2
(1 is low, 4 high)

It’s hard to rate this one because it does well what it sets out to do: pleasing everyone, offending or challenging no one. In short, the movie doesn’t aim as high as it could have. It assumes an audience of females guiding their men to the ticket booth, and the strategy worked. Moreover, I’m one male who stayed interested in most of the plot, though it was the compelling performances that carried the day.

I have two major reservations. I think a serious, less slick film would have portrayed young Julie as a much darker character and the older Julia Child as a woman in a much darker situation than we see here.

Young Julie’s obsessiveness causes only fleeting problems for her, though we might think her flaws would bring her—and us—more severe discomfort. We’re not deeply worried about her outcome, or her narcissism, to which the movie and Julie pay only lip service.

Julie’s problems at age 30 should pale beside the much more menacing situations facing Julia Child and husband Paul, including chronic, nobly suppressed grief about their childlessness, anxieties about career and finances in mid-life or later, as well as an intrusion from Senator Joe McCarthy. Of course there’s also the challenging voice and height into which Julia Child was born. Emerging from all that with her spirit, wit, and capacity for love (of her man and good food) elevates her to a quality of character one doubts young Julie will ever achieve. Yet the movie seems to want us to care equally about the two women. I’d gladly watch Amy Adams trim her fingernails for two hours, but I squirmed just a little in being asked to respect and empathize with young Julie and her youth brigade, charming though they are at times.

What’s completely satisfying in the movie are the performances by every actor, from the leads to the supporting roles by Jane Lynch and others. Lynch and Streep must have been tempted to go overboard in portraying these sisters, but they are just right as colorful eccentrics. Paul Messina, whose work I didn't know, is quietly excellent as Julie’s saint of a husband. The better known Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, and Stanley Tucci meet or exceed the high standard they have already set for themselves in other roles.

Without these actors’ accomplished deliveries and gestures, I suspect the whole movie would have been marginally relevant fluff. There are excellent comic lines and scenes, and some of the serious moments are moving, but the story as a whole lacks the impact of these striking moments, opting instead for ensuring that Mr. and Mrs. Audience have a nice time.

That’s not necessarily a flaw in itself, but if it gets there by sweeping darkness under the rug, and the darkness is yelping, “Let me out,” there’s a problem. What Julie and Julia have faced in the episodes we see, and others left invisible, amounts to no slight matter, yet I left the theater feeling at least a little misled and brighter than I should have.


Anonymous said...

You just wanted an excuse to show off your pretty boxer.

I am certain I wouldn't like this movie. Just as I am certain I will love Alice. (The creepy alice clip you found on your own -- never do that by the way -- was just some stolen images from the film that someone pasted up according to his own whims.)

Banjo52 said...

Actually it's my neighbor's boxer. He's a very proud parent, so I better not claim the pooch is mine.

Thanks for the tip on YouTube movie clips.

For the sake of clarity, AH refers to the Jonathan Miller "Alice in Wonderland"--in the 1960s, was it??

gothpunkuncle said...

Any chance of a link to this Miller version? I assumed it was the Tim Burton version (2010). The 1988 Jan Svankmajer film is pretty creepy too.

Anonymous said...

Yes, 1966, just arrived via netflix. Sticks in the middle, which is kind of funny. As Wayne said, it's not everyone's road, but then again, I don't see why not.

Lee Spangler said...

Banjo: I'll see the movie and then read the review. Usually check out Rotten Green
I am hungry right now so Julia Child's can't be bad.

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