Nora Ephron makes clever, entertaining movies like “Sleepless in Seattle” and “You’ve Got Mail.” She is undoubtedly talented, but could do even better if she worked within the parameters of the old studio system. We’d all be better off if she’d stick to what she does best: making a movie, not preaching. Guidelines by Jack Warner or Louis B. Mayer would’ve improved her movies.
Her current film is Julie and Julia, the interrelated stories of 2 very different women learning to cook. Properly Cook. The French Way. The first lady is, of course, Julia Childs, played by Meryl Streep. Amy Adams is Julie Powell, the modern blogger whose goal is to make all the recipes in Childs’ book in 365 days. The story is intriguing, the costumes and sets are lovely, accurate and true to the period. The acting is superb.
WRITING: The script is troubling. The language is embarrassingly coarse a couple of times. And not merely swearing. I never wanted to hear Julia Child describing male anatomy.
Julie Powell’s character development needed some fine tuning. Near the end, we’re told that she’s become almost impossible to live with. Why? Because she’s so self-absorbed? We knew that at the beginning, but it was supposed to be cute. Because she throws a tantrum on the kitchen floor like a 2 year-old? Another question left unexplained: why doesn’t Julia Child like Julie’s blog? Because of Julie’s foul language?
PERFORMERS: Everyone was wonderful, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Meryl Streep was actually ridiculing Julia Child or at the very least, doing a parody. I’m still not sure.
I knew I’d seen them before: Julie (Amy Adams) was the fiancé in “Catch Me If You Can.” At least two others were in “You’ve Got Mail”: Julie’s husband, (Chris Messina) was the Fox bookstore clerk and Avis (actress Deborah Rush) was the lady stuck in the elevator with Tom Hanks. I had to check Stanley Tucci on imdb.com. He’s been in everything from “The Pelican Brief” to Kit Kitteredge. He’s great in this movie.
THE FOOD: Mostly gorgeous. The Beef Bourguignon looked wonderful, also the chocolate pie. On the other hand, I didn’t want a big screen tutorial on boning a duck or boiling lobsters. But that’s just French cooking.
CONTINUITY: Packages used to be prepared for shipping by wrapping boxes in brown paper; this is how Julia prepares her manuscript for the publisher. Lovely. A nice detail. Then the anachronism: her newly published book arrives in a manila envelope with a bubble wrap liner. That’s about 30 years wrong. I know. It’s a small thing, but everything else was so right with the era and this seemed really puzzling to me.
POLITICS: The biggest fly in the ointment is Ephron’s preachiness. In the special features menu on the “You’ve Got Mail” dvd, she talks about using movies as a pulpit (my term) for her opinions. She has such a livid hatred for Republicans that she gets in zinger after zinger against conservatives in this movie. On the occasion of Julie skipping work, her boss tells her something to the effect of “If I were a Republican, I’d fire you.” And is it even possible for Hollywood to make a movie set in the 1950’s without harping on Senator McCarthy?
So, does Nora Ephron want to be a great filmmaker or Michael Moore? She can’t be both.
Sometimes the best way to figure out how much I like a movie is to wait a few hours and think about the impressions that linger. In the theater, my husband and I were engrossed in the story, but upon leaving felt uncomfortable and a little irritated. Today I like “Julie and Julia” even less. Sad, because it had tremendous potential.
Ask me today how I feel about paying $25.00 (tickets and concession) to be repeatedly insulted.
(image of the pulpit from heavenlywood.com)