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At the Movies: Julia, only Julia: Julie & Julia ***

Julie & Julia may be one of those movies that can be described as both the best movie you’ve ever seen and the worst movie you’ve ever seen.  How can it be both?   As you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Julie part of the story leaves something to be desired.  But the Julia part of the story is some of the best cinema you’ll see this year. 

It is nearly impossible to sympathize with characters who spend an entire movie whining about their condition.  If they are feeling so sorry for themselves, how in the world are we supposed to feel sorry for them?  Particularly if they brought the misery on themselves?  Such is the case with Julie & Julia.  Amy Adams has the gross misfortune of having to play Julie, a character who had no business, as written, being brought to the big screen. 

Her main grip at the outset is that she hasn’t done anything important on the eve of her thirtieth birthday.  In a desperate to validate her existence she starts a blog.  Her experiment is to cook all of the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.  A year because, well, she HAS to have a deadline!    Surely she couldn’t be doing this simply out of love – it had to reflect her need for success. 

In real life, Julie Powell had much success with her blog, wrote a book about her year and about Julia Child’s time in Paris, and then sold the film rights.  Eventually Nora Ephron got ahold of it, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams were set to star and it seemed the perfect recipe for a grand movie for women and foodies.  Ephron herself is a notorious foodie as one would discover if they read some of her brilliant essays.

Unfortunately, though, one of the key ingredients was decidedly off.  It isn’t that Amy Adams is a bad actress, or even that she’s dwarfed by one of Streep’s most brilliant turns (which, sadly, she is), no, the problem is with the character, and perhaps the mistaken notion that internet drama  can successfully make the leap to cinema; it can’t, as it turns out.  C’est domage!

All is not lost, however, as Julie & Julia brings to life a woman who hasn’t been properly celebrated in our modern age.  Streep’s Julia Child is a revelation – not a parody, not a condescending joke on a character who is accidentally comical, but a genuine, loving  portrayal.   And for that, one must endure Julie and all of her annoying mini-dramas. 

Ephron seemed to lack the ability to let herself tell a real story and make a “serious” film about Julia Child.  The focus on Julie should have really been more about the cooking and less about the thirtysomething angst.  Ephron’s gift and focus is with comedy so it’s no wonder so much of her attention is on Julie and not on Julia – but if that’s the case why didn’t Streep, Adams, and Ephron team up to remake All About Eve?  That, I think, would be an excellent recipe for success.

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