Saturday, August 08, 2009

Julie & Julia might be the most bipolar movie ever made. Half of it is a very charming period comedy-drama about the road a singular, lively woman took toward bridging a crucial cultural gap, mostly out of instinct and love and drive; it made her famous, but that was effect, not motivation. Meryl Streep plays Julia Child somewhat cartoonishly, but that's a lot of why it works: Child knew she was an odd duck and reveled in it, in part because her wildly harmonious marriage to Paul Child gave her so much space to not worry about being something other than herself. (I might have enjoyed Stanley Tucci as Paul even more than I did Streep; his long pause followed by a perfect "Fuck them!" is probably the best moment in the movie.)

The other half is a nightmare. On our way back from the theater, Angela and I puzzled over whether Amy Adams's performance as Julie Powell was or wasn't the problem. I don't think it was--she seems to have played the role as written, and as written the role isn't merely uninteresting but repellent. The onscreen Powell is a self-impressed nitwit, and the idea that we're supposed to root for her is an insult. I've never read Powell's blog or book, and based on what was presented onscreen I never want to: as the posts are typed/read over onscreen, I kept wondering when someone was going to break it to her that she, you know, can't write. When we find out that Julia Child herself dislikes the blog, the only logical response is, "Duh."

Powell works at a call center for 9/11 victims, but when we see her doing her job we're supposed to feel sorry for her, not the people she's trying to help--not shrewd. At one point, when she calls in sick after having overcooked an important dinner, she's given a warning, but I was hoping she'd get fired--maybe it would build character, or give her more time to cook and/or think about what stepping into Child's recipes actually means beyond her one quasi-crisis, when her husband spends the night at the office because the project has made her too self-absorbed. He seems not to have figured out that it isn't the project's fault. Child writes Mastering the Art of French Cuisine because she wants everyone to have the same pleasure she's experienced. The onscreen Powell writes her blog about cooking her way through Julia's book because she craves status; the sequence in which dozens of book, magazine, TV, and newspaper offers pour in thanks to a New York Times profile has the stomach-sinking effect of being in the room during the moment the light bulb went on over Perez Hilton's head. The Julia half made me want to eat, travel, live. The Julie half made me want to delete my blogs.