I have a hard time saying Julie & Julia is even half of a good movie despite the fact that’s exactly what it is. I hesitate because the half that works is only due to the fact Meryl Streep gives an all-time performance as kitchen legend Julia Child and Stanley Tucci matches her step-for-step as her loving husband Paul. The two do this with very little help from a script that depends more on its actors than any script should. On the other side of the equation is Julie Powell, played to the best of her ability by Amy Adams, but considering she was given nothing to work with whatsoever, every time we get saddled with her storyline the life of the film is drained into a dark chasm of despair.
Directed by Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia is an adaptation of Julia Child’s memoir “My Life in France” and Julie Powell’s book “Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.” Ephron adapted the two stories into one non-cohesive script, which follows Powell as she hopes to accomplish something in her life by setting out to make all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” cookbook over the course of one year and blog about the experience. While this is the film’s backbone, the other half of the film cuts back in time into the life of Child and her life in France learning to cook and writing said cookbook.
The Julie Powell half of the story is shot in her poorly lit and rundown apartment. It’s by no means an atmosphere worth visiting and certainly one that doesn’t do anything for the appeal of the food she is cooking. Despite how dark and ugly all of her scenes are, the worst part of Powell’s story is she isn’t a likable character and her relationship with her husband (if you can call it that) is neither believable nor appetizing. Ephron gives the audience no reason to cheer for Powell as she sets about her task and as a result you couldn’t care less if she pulls it off. Suffice to say, when your character admits she’s a bitch and even her so-called best friend agrees with her, you need to do more than have her conquer the recipe for boned duck to give the audience a reason to like her.
On the other side of the equation you have a wholly believable relationship between Paul and Julia Child, which comes off almost effortlessly. Streep plays to Julia’s eccentricities with excitement and a convincing lust for life. Tucci takes on Paul with all the understanding in the world as a caring and supportive husband that loves his wife with all his heart. The two stories in this film couldn’t be any more opposite one another and with absolutely no payoff in the end, there is very little reason for either to exist, although a 90 minute film of just Julia’s side of the story would have been a thing of beauty.
Instead, we get two hours of ups and downs. Laughter, friendship, love, mutual respect, trials, tribulations and overcoming anything that stands in your way make up Julia’s story. Meanwhile, Julie too suffers trials and tribulations and is determined to overcome them, but she does so without laughter, hardly a real friend in site and to say her marriage is filled with love or an ounce of respect would be a stretch as she wallows in self-pity when things don’t go her way and pats herself on the back when they do, both at the expense of her marriage.
I haven’t talked with anyone yet that felt the Julie Powell side of the story worked, other than to enhance the Julia Child side. This isn’t always a problem since it’s rare you will like all aspects of any film, but when things are 50/50 as this one is you run into problems.
I would compare Julie & Julia to placing the audience in a boxing match against Mike Tyson with swimsuit models working your corner. You are loving the rubdown between rounds, but they keep ringing the bell giving Tyson a chance to continually bash your face in. Do the rubdowns make up for the pummeling? I don’t think so. And who would have ever thought a character played by Amy Adams would be compared to getting punched by Mike Tyson all while Julia Child is compared to swimsuit models? Now do you understand what this film did to me?