Julie & Julia: Half Terrible and Half Marvelous
Half of this movie is marvelous. The idea of Meryl Streep playing Julia Child is manifestly fantastic, a loop of genius, and the reality surpasses the idea. In order to play Child, Streep ate Kermit the Frog: The voice—the chortle-yodeling, the vowels (my god, the vowels)—is perfect. Streep's physical embodiment of Child is perfect, too, both ungainly (Child towered, thick through the middle, over almost everyone) and graceful. Streep as Child is funny: The moments in which she masters, effortful and joyous, the art of French cooking at Le Cordon Bleu are comedy nonpareil. Streep as Child is sexy: When she looks down into Stanley Tucci's eyes and pulls down his suspenders in a scene that stops just before their daily Paris nooner: Oh! (Tucci, as short, shiny-domed, bespectacled Paul Child, is inarguably the new hot.) Streep as Child is moving: Her weeping is so piteous, so true. Every scene with her in it is endlessly engrossing. She opens an envelope on a porch, glancing slightly wildly over her shoulder, and it is magic.
Half of this movie is, especially by comparison, terrible. The latter-day also-based-on-a-true-story plotline concerns Julie Powell, played high-pitched and shallow-souled by Amy Adams. Powell is a blogger who cooked every recipe in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, got a book contract, and is now deemed of interest to us by Nora Ephron and company. Adams is occasionally funny (though the lobster scene pales in comparison to the lodestar of cinema lobster scenes). Adams is not sexy, playing cute-but-icy when rejecting her husband's advances in order to meet her self-imposed one-year deadline. (Her husband, played by handsome, hair-having Chris Messina, flatlines even through their Big Fight, then takes her back for no clear reason.) Adams is anti-moving, as evidenced by her empty, perky rendition of a Paul Child line that, when Tucci does it, puts your heart in a vise. Not long into the film, when Adams comes on screen, a sinking disappointment is unavoidable.
The good news is that Julie & Julia is 123 minutes long. When the DVD comes out, you can skip the Julie scenes and revel in a full hour of Meryl-as-Julia.