Julie & Julia (2009)

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Its been a while since I reviewed a truly feel-good film. All the reviews over the last few weeks have all been excellent, but had the shadows of intense social issues hovering over them – losing religion, racism, bullying, crime, the failing of the education system and, well…whatever Nightcrawler was. Therefore, it was really an enormous relief to sit down and actually watch something that was so light, fluffy and exciting, it instantly puts you in a great mood. That film was Julie & Julia, a film much better than it should have been.

Perhaps it may be the nostalgia talking – I watched this film on a rainy Saturday afternoon while feeling under the weather, but I truly feel that Nora Ephron may one of the greatest directors of all time. She mastered the art of deeply entertaining, beautifully fun films that were the rare combination of comedy, romance and exceptional quality. Julie & Julia was sadly her very last film, and I won’t say it was the best possible way for her to go out, but it was an exceptionally great film and a worthy indicator of her legacy.

The film tells the story of two women who share so much in common – loving husbands, uneasy friendships, uncertain futures and an absolute love of cooking. There is only one thing seperating them – around half a decade. The one woman is Julia Child (Meryl Streep), quite possibly the greatest and most iconic celebrity chef in history. The other is Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a slightly bohemian young lady in post-9/11 New York who balances her days of aiding the families of victims of the tragic event, and pursuing a project she puts upon herself – to cook every recipe in Child’s iconic cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. That is essentially the story – yet throw in a little bit more to it, such as the wonderful husbands (Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina) who stand by their wives, through good times and bad times, and the struggles of going from amateur cook to professional through sheer willpower and dedication.

I would say this movie belongs to both of the ladies playing the titular roles. Both were equally great, and the dramatic shifts of stories between the two eras made for very compelling viewing. However, it would be wrong for me to not say this is Meryl Streep’s film, through and through. Adams was amazing, but what Meryl achieved here was beyond brilliant. The problem with being the consensus choice for Best Living Actress can prove to be daunting, especially when one has to choose what her best performance is. Sophie’s Choice? Out of Africa? I’ll cut the neverending debate to answer this question short – its this. Julie & Julia may very well be Meryl Streep’s greatest performance. A quirky little comedy is her best performance. You can disparage and laugh at this thought, but one can’t deny that Meryl Streep’s best part of her career has definitely been the later part. She has defied age and typecasting, and instead of being the young ingenue actress in quite serious roles, she is now the respectable older veteran who can pull off one of her patented dramatic performances with ease, but at the drop of a hat, have absolute fun in another film. The fact that in films like Into the Woods, The Devil Wears Prada and yes, Julie & Julia, Streep clearly has tangible fun with the roles speaks volumes to her current career position as an actress. What makes this her best performance is how she manages to actually truly capture the essence of who Julia Child was – she got the voice down, the look, the way she carried herself. She was Julia Child from beginning to end. Yes, she was also excellent as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, but let’s face it – in that film, she was very obviously pulling out the cinematic tricks she has traded for decades, and we never forgot we were watching Meryl Streep. Playing Julia Child allowed Streep to disappear into the role like never before. Amy Adams, as excellent as she was, needs to sit this one out in terms of praise, because while being absolutely stellar, Adams didn’t hold a candle to Meryl’s performance, and that’s not a bad thing at all – there are worse things to be in than to be in a film like Julie and Julia with Meryl Streep (for example, being in a film like Doubt with Meryl Streep)

Julie & Julia is fun, very much a hilarious way to tell the very quirky story and a very easy film to watch. It is noticeable lightweight, and that isn’t an insult to it at all. Sometimes we all need a fun little movie that makes us laugh, makes us feel some genuine emotion and just purely entertains us. Julie & Julia is a wonderfully quirky little film, and absolutely brilliant.

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