Julie and Julia is the rare movie that really necessitates that I drag out all the movie-critic cliches, because they truly befit the movie: It’s splendid! It’s delightful! A joy to watch! Adorable! A food romp! It’s pleasant! A light-hearted hoot!
Indeed, Julie and Julia was tailor made for bad movie reviewer food metaphors. It’s a jubilant recipe of butter, sumptuous performances, frothy comedy, and home-baked romance. It’s a tasty treat. A satisfying soufflé of charm.
I’ll have what she’s having.
And while it is all the above, it’s not a transcendent movie. It’s not particularly remarkable. Or creative. Or thought-provoking. All of which sort of makes it a perfectly amiable summer diversion, an estrogen alternative to explosions (what’s better than explosions? Butter, of course!). It will keep you entertained for the better part of two hours, and then the memory of it will disappear into your brain’s garbage disposal.
Meryl Streep is the eighth goddamn wonder of the world, and 82 percent of Julie and Julia’s success can be attributed to her. She is flat-out phenomenal. Indeed, when you leave the theater, all of your memories of Julie Child will forevermore posses the face of Meryl Streep. Streep may very well be a better Julia Child and Julia was, and certainly easier on the eyes. Hell, the Academy should just brand an Oscar on her ass and retire the award in her honor. She’s a goddamn national treasure.
The rest of the movie: Well, it was a “splendid” tale of two people. Amy Adams plays Julie, an aimless writer approaching 30, living in Queens, with nothing to show for herself but a miserable temp job and an adoring husband. Driven to find some purpose and discipline in her life, she does what we all do: She starts a blog. Her goal: To cook the 524 recipes in Julie Child’s The Art of Mastering French Cooking in 365 days. Obviously, we all know how her story ends because there’s a movie made about it (you could hardly expect a movie about a woman who lost interest in her project three months into the year). There are a few minor meltdowns along the way, a couple of fights with her husband (Chris Messina), and the occasional disappointment. It’s essentially a Carrie Bradshaw version of Food in the City, although if it’s possible, Julie is even more self-absorbed and narcissistic than Carrie. She’s likable, but not that likable.
The other, and frankly more interesting, story is that of Julie Child, who came to cooking late in her life as a way to occupy herself while her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), moved them from one place to another as an embassy worker abroad. She rose above the male competition, got connected with the right people, and spent years toiling away at a French cookbook for American housewives, which had a difficult time finding a publisher. It’s exactly the kind of generic story that ends with a happy letter. Indeed, Julia Child’s story arc probably wouldn’t have been the compelling but for the fact that Streep dodders you into enchanted submission.
Julie and Julia floats along amiably, plasters a smile upon your face that doesn’t leave for 123 minutes, and then vanishes into the cinematic ether. Besides Streep’s captivating performance, the only thing that really sticks with you is the movie’s treatment of its husbands. It’s completely different from almost any other romantic comedy you’ve ever seen, focusing not on the dashing, handsome manly man who woos his lady with a big speech in the end, but on the contented happily ever after. We frequently complain about how women are depicted in romantic comedies, but men are too often idealized, and Julie and Julia provides a loving picture of two husbands who are supportive, grounding, encouraging, and content to remain supporting characters in these womens’ lives.
It’s not a difficult task for Paul Child, it seems. Julia Child, or at least the version of her depicted in the movie, would’ve been a woman any husband would’ve wanted to please and support. The same couldn’t be said for Julie, and knowing that there’s a soon-to-be-published sequel to Julie Powell’s memoir (and having a slight knowledge of its contents) focuses your attention on the unraveling seams. Let’s just say that, when Julie acknowledges in the movie that she doesn’t deserve her husband, I felt myself nodding in agreement. The reality of their relationship, unfortunately, casts a tiny pall over the otherwise winsome proceedings.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba.