Any film explicitly about or involving food or cooking inevitably challenges critics to sharpen their analytical knives in the hope of carving up a culinary themed zinger or two: one might say, for example, that No Reservations was “a light snack not a three course meal”; What’s Cooking “a flavourless fable as hard to swallow as a piece of tough turkey”; Chocolat “a candy that’s not entirely fresh but still digestible” and Takeaway “a padded-out patty of greasy comedy crap bludgeoned so hard with the spatula of bad taste that one can’t wait for it to come out the other end so it can be flushed down the annals of cinematic sewerage” (that one’s all mine).
A pretty lame way of “reviewing” films, really, since it’s more about the critic’s wit or lack thereof than any insightful rambles or vaguely analytical discussion of virtues and vices but still, a food themed movie presents the kind of opportunity your average film writer can hardly pass up. It’s a lot easier than, say, lampooning in such a way a movie about computers – i.e. the producers forgot to read their error reports; the cinematography is as visually appealing as an all night session on MS Dos; blah blah blah.
With this in mind, and in the context of a discussion of writer/director Nora Ephron’s Julie and Julia – which centres around two unprepossessing chefs who write about cooking, one for a book and the other for a blog – let’s get the crappy food analogies out of the way first. There was potential here for a tasty dish but the script lacks flavour and the direction lacks bite; the dramatic elements simmer lazily in the pot while the comedy flaps about like a half-dead fish; the film is more airy soufflé than hearty meal; and so on and so forth. Bored yet? Me too. Let’s move on.
The film alternates between two courses (last one, promise): the story – set in Paris in the late 40s and 50s – of celebrity chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and in particular the authorship of her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The other is the modern day tale of a bored woman in Queens, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) who takes up blogging. Professionally and creatively unsatisfied, Julie decides to cook her way through Julia’s book and blog about it as a “government employee by day, renegade foodie by night.” The film jumps haphazardly between the stories, which are in essence quite similar, both involving women who cook and write about it and have loving and supporting husbands (Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina respectively).
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Ephron inadvertently demonstrates there is precious little that is cinematically compelling about watching someone cooking or someone writing about cooking. The lighter moments in the film – Julie killing a lobster, over-cooking her boeuf bourguignon, etcetera – are fluffy and forgettable and the dramatic moments – particularly the friction that arises between Julie and her husband as a result of her incessant blogging – feel laboured and forced; the screenplay needed to do something more with her just-add-water narcissism. The performances are of a respectable standard: Streep as always steals the show, nailing Child’s goofy singsong voice and jovial aunty persona, but the story moves at retirement village pace, a very slow plod to nowheres in particular.
I saw Julie and Julia in a cinema half full of people who all looked vaguely like Meryl Streep, at least in terms of age, gender and ethnicity; the sort of people who – not wishing to offend anybody – looked like they could bake the sh*t out of a cake. One inclined to defend the film could argue I clearly fall outside the target demographic, of which these people were indisputably a part of. But that’s a tough sell when you’re talking about a guy who enjoyed Tea With Mussolini, loved A Prairie Home Companion, ranks Jessica Fletcher as his favourite screen detective and secretly lapped up Stan Zemanek’s panel talk show Beauty and the Beast, returning guiltily like a coke fiend sneaking back to the bathroom. And my thoughts on The Golden Girls? Well, they’re not for public disclosure.
Julie & Julie’s Australian theatrical release date: October 8, 2009