Athena was the Greek goddess of wisdom, peace, warfare, strategy, handicrafts and reason–quite a list, to be sure. So you can imagine how flattered I was when the young lady (in god years, of course) decided she’d like a crack at sharing her cinematic wisdom with you, our loyal readers.
So without further ado, meet MovieChopShop’s newest contributor, Kathleen “Athena” Keish, as she delves into the depths of the newest Norah Ephron opus.
A great film is much like a great recipe. (Oh yes, you surely saw this comparison coming.) To make a great dish, you need all the right ingredients and a cook who knows what they’re doing. To make a great film, you need all the right players and a director who knows what they’re doing.
In much the same way that Julia Child could make a delicious meal out of obscure ingredients, director Nora Ephron has made a film about the iconic celebrity chef that is a perfectly blended mix of all the right cinematic components.
Meryl Streep portrays the iconic celebrity chef in the Ephron biopic Julie & Julia, a film adaptation of two memoirs; Child’s autobiography “My Life in France” and the memoir of blogger Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a former government employee who set out to cook all 524 recipes in Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a year.
The combination of the two books, Child’s autobiography and Powell’s book, “Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,” is an interesting cinematic feat. Has something like this ever been done before? If not, then this is the film from which to set the precedent.
Julie and Julia have a few things in common—both enjoy cooking, both have hopelessly devoted husbands who put up with their respectively quirky antics and both are government employees. It is in these similarities that the plot initially succeeds and in the differences where it subsequently perseveres. Child is living in France with her diplomat husband, Paul, and is yearning for an identity of her own. Powell is living in Queens, New York with her husband and yearns for an identity that she believes is true to her. Once the literary It girl at Amherst, Powell is now working as an employee at a government job that leaves her emotionally, mentally and physically exhausted. Both Child and Powell turn to cooking and embark on similarly rewarding and tiring journeys.
Streep is excellent as Child, a role that may garner her 10,000th Oscar nomination. And deserved it will be; Streep IS Child, resembling her not only physically, but personally as well. It is evident that Child was an optimistic woman who didn’t let the political and social oppression of the 40s and 50s get her down. Much can be said about Streep, whose distinct looks and hardcore acting chops have earned her the reputation as one of the most memorable and talented actresses of our time. She masters Child’s unique accent, a cooing crescendo that made the California native sound like a resident of the country she loved so much.
She also masters Child’s on-screen personality. Throughout the film, Julie, in Queens, watches footage of her beloved heroine, all of which was recorded with Streep as Child. This further intensifies the connection between Julie and Julia and the connection between Streep and Child. It is one thing to portray Streep in a carefully crafted biopic, but to remake her original work is a risky endeavor–one that Ephron and Streep master artfully.
In direct contrast with Streep’s portrayal of Child is Adams’ portrayal of blogger Powell. Amy Adams is nothing but sweet and endearing, and, unfortunately, this role was anything but that. In one scene, (spoiler alert!), after her husband temporarily leaves her for becoming too self-absorbed, her friend (portrayed by Mary Lynn Rajskub, complete with perfect insult timing) tells her that she is a bitch. Perhaps Powell was a bitch in real life, but Adams, as Powell, did not reveal an inkling of this insult. And aside from that, it may be veritably impossible for Adams to be bitchy, a contrast that makes me wonder if she was not suitable for this role on the basis that she is both a good actress and a good person.
One thing about this film which will hopefully make it both a critical and commercial success is that it is a female-oriented film lacking a storyline about the search for love. Rather than looking for a man to complete them, both Julie and Julia turn to cooking to fulfill this goal, something that is both cinematically and culturally progressive. In an era when being stick thin and finding love are the only ingredients to the recipe of happiness (and to the recipe of box office success), Julie and Julia dare to counter this notion. Keep in mind, however, that both Julie and Julia have husbands, and in another truly progressive fashion, their husbands love and support them despite their physical and emotional flaws. Child was an astounding 6’2”, yet her husband, portrayed by the adorable Stanley Tucci, loved every quirky inch of her, even the inches that towered over him. Powell’s husband, Eric (Chris Messina), feels the same way, though he reaches his breaking point when Powell begins taking him for granted. (An action that shows no similarities to Child, who dearly loves her husband.). In this film, their husbands are their partners, not their conquest, and mirror the progression of their characters and their achievements. Though Powell’s husband leaves her, it is necessary for her to grow both as a character and as a person attempting to accomplish a specific goal.
The two protagonists are supported by a bevy of interesting characters. Tucci and Messina are perfect as the husbands, though Tucci outshines his younger counterpart. It is odd to recall that he and Streep most recently worked together in The Devil Wears Prada, especially during the sex scene. However, despite this cinematic familiarity, it works. The same can be said for Adams and Messina, though on a different level. Both are young and attractive, so there is a lot less to be analyzed. Attractive people engaging in on-screen romps isn’t exactly new.
Rajskub is great as Powell’s friend, but a more surprising casting decision lies in the portrayal of Julia’s sister, Dorothy, by comedian Jane Lynch. Gone are her leering facial expressions and crude comedic timing; Lynch, a tall woman in real life, brings personality to a character that could have been easily shoved into the background.
Ephron does a wonderful job bringing this combination of stories to the big screen, and, considering her background in cult-classic rom-coms, this one definitely shows progression for her as a more earnest storyteller. In the end, the film is a stew of delight–a combination of all the right ingredients that left my mind and my heart full from a delicious movie that practically doubles as dinner.