Julie & Julia
d. Nora Ephron / 2009 / USA / 123 mins
Viewed at: Screen 8 @ Vue Leicester Square (London, UK)
Lets get one thing clear: I am not, by any stretch of the remotest imagination, a particular fan of the films of Nora Ephron. Call me old fashioned, but I can truly think of little worse – cinematically speaking – than having to sit through tripe like Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. Although, I will admit to having a soft spot for her postmodern rendition of Bewitched, the Nicole Kidman and Will Ferrell star-vehicle which was almost universally panned – extremely unfairly, I think, considering the relentless stream of utter trollop that Hollywood produces year in year out.
But then there’s Julie & Julia, Ephron’s first work since the whole Bewitched debacle, and a rather jolly dual-biopic of one of the original celebrity chefs, Julia Child (Meryl Streep), and her winsome blogosphere disciple, Julie Powell (Amy Adams).
For me, this film is a world above and beyond Nora Ephron’s other works simply because it doesn’t rely solely upon that hackneyed Hollywood ploy of contriving two people – usually either diametric opposites or complete strangers – to fall madly in love. That the two central couples in Julie & Julia are already well past the usual courting rituals of dime-a-dozen Hollywood rom-coms, ensures that they are already happily married, happily co-habiting and happily living ever after, well before the audience comes along.
With this in mind, Ephron – and the audience – are left to focus upon the individual relationships themselves and the interplay between these relationships across time and space. In fact, the film’s dullest moments occur with the temporary breakup of Julie and her husband Eric, affording Ephron the opportunity to delve painfully close to the kind of saccharine, heart-string stuff on which she built her notoriously mushy, sentimental reputation.
Amy Adams is her usual likeable self as Julie Powell, an embattled office worker dealing with post-9/11 compensation claims by day and flambéing her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking by night. Towering above all else, however – both literally and figuratively – is Meryl Streep, who inhabits Julia Child’s affectations and eccentricities as if they were her own, in a performance that has critics the world over muttering about Oscars.
As to be expected, Ephron’s direction is much more assured and comfortable within the familiar surrounds of modern New York, but her handling of the period settings is reasonable enough. Suprising for me – particularly for the director of the cringe-worthy You’ve Got Mail – is the complete lack of fumbling artifice in the representations of online technologies. This is the first film, as far as I recall, which didn’t make me shudder at the mere mention of blogs, email or online social networking. Sure, Ephron does allow the tempo to drop at a couple of points, but its a fairly minor complaint for what is, on the whole, a fairly effortless, enjoyable cinematic experience.