Julie & Julia: Streep’s Super, Adams Ain’t

It’s not Amy Adams’ fault that her half of Julie & Julia can’t compare with the other. Part of it is because Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci make their half of the film so charming, breezy, and fun that the audience never wants to leave Paris for Queens (seems like a logical choice). The other part, and the film’s biggest flaw, is the Julia Child plotline seems to indicate a feel good, life-affirming comedy about thoughtful and caring people, but Julie Powell doesn’t live in the same fantasy world. She is real– egocentric, unthoughtful, desperately chasing a higher position in life, and ultimately dismissive of the thoughts of her husband, her friends, and Julia Child herself. Despite this, Nora Ephron still attempts to twist the film into the feel-good hit of the summer. The Streep sections make the film soar, but the Adams sections stumble.

Julia Child (Meryl Streep) moves to Paris. She’s a tall woman, married to a US government worker (Stanley Tucci), who lives a life of luxury and fine Parisian food, but is looking for something more. Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is working for the government to answer questions post-9/11, living above a pizzeria with her husband (Chris Messina) in Queens, and jealous of her friends and their successful lives. Both make life-changing decisions regarding food– Child decides to learn to cook and ultimately to help compose a French cookbook for Americans, while Powell decides to start a blog and cook every recipe in Julia Child’s French cookbook in 365 days. Child slowly gains the respect of her peers, while Powell slowly gains fame.

Yet the similarities are the film’s downfall. While Child’s motives come from love and a joie-de-vivre attitude, Powell’s motives are far more self-absorbed. Child is nice to everyone she meets, but Powell looks at everyone like life is a race, and she’s losing. Child is constantly loving and caring to her husband, but despite Powell’s husband’s constant patience, she lets the cooking goal and blog ruin their sex life and her temper towards him. The character of Julie Powell was never meant to be a lovable hero that we root for, yet Amy Adams plays only the best side of her. When a stream of characters in a row call her a bitch, we do a double-take in the audience, because Amy Adams does a rendition of her usual lovable and cute routine to the best of her abilities. Only after the plot reveals that everyone thinks she’s a bitch do we start to see her behavior turn really narcissistic, and then we have a hero who the movie wants to be cute but instead isn’t really the greatest hero after all.

Of course, Adams can’t really be blamed for being miscast. Credit Nora Ephron for valiantly attempting to make the character of Julie Powell something she was never going to be– lovable. She must have seen this basic problem in the parallels and attempted to overcome it by casting someone who couldn’t be unlovable if she tried. The problem with that then becomes that Ephron couldn’t change the basic plot, which hinges on Powell being insecure, short-tempered, and arrogant, but she tries to obscure it in every way possible until the last possible second, and then when the plot requires it be brought up, then the bitchiness and the discussion about it arrives apropos of nothing. Also, when someone extremely important to Powell’s life doesn’t approve of her blog in the end, Ephron still attempts to spin it into a positive, life-affirming message– it’s a strained maneuver to put it lightly. Adams does a fine job trying to mask this by bing cute im moments and then immediately irrational in others, but even an actress of her caliber can’t make Julie Powell into a heartwarming comedic hero.

Streep, however, shows once again that she’s not only the best actress alive today, but her comedic timing is second to none. Watching her and Tucci banter, play, flirt, and overcome adversity together in the Paris scenes is tantamount to watching an acting master class. Tucci achieves real depth of character as Paul, creating a believable romance out of what could have easily been a joke. Who would think the tall goofy woman with the short bald mustachioed man would generate more sexual chemistry than the younger, “sexier” couple in the film? The indispensable Jane Lynch also appears as Child’s sister for a memorable stint. Despite the flaws of the other half, the Child couple alone merit a viewing of the film. It’s a tale of perseverance, overcoming adversity, growing as a couple, and following your passion– and unlike the Powell half, it shows you can achieve all of these things without ignoring your husband and friends. Streep’s performance is akin to Child’s Bavarian cream pie– sweet enough to make you smile, but thick and full enough to be enormously memorable.

~ by russellhainline on September 6, 2009.

2 Responses to “Julie & Julia: Streep’s Super, Adams Ain’t”

  1. lovely. you nailed it! i knew i couldn’t stand the powell half but couldn’t stop watching the child half, and you put into words (when i couldn’t) exactly why the modern-day queens part was so off-putting.

    excellent reviews, mr. hainline. for what it’s worth, i find myself checking here before rotten tomatoes for a good movie review.

  2. […] 5. Rose Byrne- Adam 4. Gabourey Sidibe- Precious 3. Carey Mulligan- An Education 2. Meryl Streep- Julie & Julia 1. Rachel Weisz- The Brothers […]

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