Knight at the Movies Archives
Nora Ephron's Perfectly Baked Movie, Judd Apatow's Overcooked One
After seeing director Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia I felt like singing “Food, Glorious Food,” the musical number that opens the Oscar
winning musical Oliver! When tiny Mark Lester who played Oliver, the orphaned urchin stepped up to the mean workhouse overseer
with his empty bowl and begged, “Please sir, I want some more” he described my feelings about Julie & Julia exactly. This
delectable, adorable movie – yes that’s the proper word for it – definitely leaves one hungering for another helping.
It’s a great return to form for writer-director Nora Ephron after a couple of stinkers who smartly decided to combine adaptations of
Julie Powell’s best seller (based on her blog) about cooking the recipes in Julia Child’s renowned cook book and Child’s own memoir
about her early days before becoming the world’s beloved French Chef. From the moment we see Meryl Streep as Child exclaim with
abject wonder as she gazes into a frying pan, “Butter!” the audience melts in her mouth. This is in 1949 when Child and her
husband Paul (Stanley Tucci), a foreign service officer, are in residence in Paris, her spiritual home.
Ephron contrasts the bubbly Julia with the creatively stifled Julie Powell (Amy Adams, re-teaming with Streep after last year’s Doubt).
Powell lives with her husband in a run of the mill Brooklyn walk up and works a day job that doesn’t offer much in the way of
responsibility or creativity. Worse, she’s surrounded by a passel of career driven women who are getting places in modern day
Manhattan. “I have thoughts,” she announces to her patient husband Eric (Chris Messina) after a particularly frustrating lunch with
the girls. Then she comes up with the idea of cooking all of Child’s recipes in a year’s time and blogging about the results. As the
project continues, with its shares of tiny triumphs and disasters, Ephron takes us back to Paris to track Child’s own path to fame and
glory. At the outset of her career Child was creatively stifled too and slowly Ephron interweaves the connections between the mentor
and student until a lively, warm hearted dual portrait, combining past and present, emerges.
The filmmakers have decried the idea that Julie & Julia is simply a chick flick and though it clearly is, it’s also a loving, old fashioned
tribute to individualism – the courage to be oneself; to dream and to not give up on the dream when adversity strikes (and it does
here for both ladies). This theme, one of the movie’s oldest and most potent, is emphasized over and over again. Whether it’s at
the stove or on the computer via a blog, Ephron’s message that with hard work and pluck, talent will shine through no matter the
medium or the time period joyfully resounds (especially with the help of a loveable, supportive partner). The film also lets us share
in the emotionally satisfying payoff of the personal triumphs of the two ladies when success finally comes, the validation for all the
hard work. It’s a message that particularly suits Ephron whose talent for combing old and new and honoring it has been a hallmark
Ephron’s movie also speaks to the importance of creative mentors on their followers – oftentimes those one can’t possibly hope to
meet – whose lives are often just as important an example as their output (Susie Boyt’s recent book “My Judy Garland Life” is a
fascinating examination of this largely unexplored subject). By the time Julie complains to her husband about her mentor, “I’m
never going to meet her” his response – “You already know her” rings true. In all the most important ways she does. It doesn’t
take much imagination for both this and the “work hard, dream hard, win big” moral to resonate with gay audiences and other often
disenfranchised groups who are historically used to doing both these things at the movies and in real life.
From the outset, Streep perfectly captures Child’s famous buoyancy. Her enthusiasm is so delightfully contagious one wants more of
her performance the way one wants more of the constant array of fabulous dishes on display. At first one resents the interruptions
of the sweet but not particularly personable Powell and the cutaways from the fabulously chic detailed, early 50s Paris settings to the
cacophony of Manhattan (the vintage sequences are expertly dressed, costumed and given a jaunty score by Alexandre Desplat).
But eventually Adams’ ability to connect with audiences helps turn the tide. And it doesn’t hurt that the husbands are both
dreamsicles themselves – “Where’s my little sprig?” Stanley Tucci cries as Paul, looking for his giant love bunny as he comes
through the door. Ephron has also salted the movie with a raft of crack supporting actors that give it extra flavor – out comedian
Jane Lynch as Julia’s equally exuberant (and tall) sister, Linda Emond and Helen Carey as Child’s French co-authors, Mary Lynn
Rajskub as Julie’s droll best friend, Frances Sternhagen as a meek best selling cook book writer, etc.
To sum up this delicious little movie I offer yet another food metaphor: Julie & Julia is a soufflé that rises to perfection before our
eyes and is just as quickly devoured by its enchanted audience.
Funny People in a nutshell: I thought it was two movies in one - the first was terrific, the second rather formulaic. Adam Sandler
gives the best performance of his career (it's a role perfectly suited for him) and Seth Rogen raises his likability quotient ever
higher. The contrast between the struggling comedian and his scrappy world played by Rogen and the impossibly lavish one by the
comedic superstar essayed by Sandler is very telling and the parade of famous comics making cameos is fun. Less wonderful:
Apatow's world view is extremely limited. Only straight white guys seem to live in this world. Where are the women (the real ones),
the people of color? The queers? When I watch Apatow's movies sooner or later, as a gay man, I always realize that I am a tourist
to a foreign country. My money is welcome and the people are so nice! But they really don't give a rat's ass whether I stay or not.
It's not personal; I'm just not part of the...vision.
I took copious notes and have worked on a lengthy review to post here but I think this about says it for me.
Girls Over Here/Guys Over There:
Julie & Julia-Funny People
Expanded Edition of 8-5-09 Windy City Times KATM Column
By Richard Knight, Jr.