Half a good movie is better than no good movie at all, and Meryl Streep is great in just about anything — even Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, which presents Streep with the thankless task of taking one of the most caricatured public figures of the last 50 years and turning her into a believable human being.
Streep stars here as the legendary Julia Child, depicted in the early stages of her career, as she muscled her way into the Cordon Bleu and started what would become an incredible career as an author and television personality, and she almost literally lights up the screen in each of her scenes. It’s pretty incredible, really; not only does Streep have to make you believe she’s a hell of a lot younger than she really is, she’s altered a number of things about her physical appearance — and on top of all that, she’s using a voice and physical mannerisms that have long since become synonymous with cheap comedy. You want to laugh every time you hear that voice — and you often do. But it’s to Streep’s enormous credit that you’re laughing because of the palpable joy of her performance; she’s playing a woman who clearly loved life, and her enthusiasm is infectious.
It’s just too bad that Streep is only onscreen for roughly half of the movie. Julie & Julia is split between Child’s fascinating story and the more recent true-life tale of Julie Powell, the woman who turned a yearlong blogging quest into a full-fledged writing career. Feeling trapped in her job and envious of her successful friends, Julie decided to spend a year cooking the recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and turned herself into a Web phenomenon in the process. As a writer, Powell might sparkle, but as a character, she’s a total drip — and she presents her portrayer, Amy Adams, with her own thankless task, one she isn’t quite up to. Adams plays mousy well — she comes across like The Office‘s Pam Beesly, without the sense of humor — but Powell just isn’t much fun to be around; she hates her job, she ignores her husband, and when she isn’t cooking, she’s whining. Her own mother insults her and to her friends, she’s an afterthought — and it’s depressingly easy to see why.
None of this is Adams’ fault; it’s just the hand she was dealt. But it does beg the question of why no one associated with this production realized what a terrible contrast they were drawing between Streep’s sunny Julia and Adams’ drab Julie. You don’t get the sense that Powell’s cooking project was all that uplifting; toward the end of the movie, she’s happier, but that has more to do with things happening to her as a result of the fame her cooking has brought her than the act of cooking itself — and that’s an unfortunate distinction with Child, for whom cooking was clearly an act of love. Julie & Julia is an innocuous enough movie, and it’s enjoyable in its way — it’s certainly a damn sight better than Ephron’s Bewitched — but the overriding emotion it provokes is longing, specifically for a Streep-led, full-length Julia Child biopic.
As half-satisfying as the movie is, the Julie & Julia Blu-ray is surprisingly satisfying. Not only does the movie boast a warm, sharp picture and a clean 5.1 DTS soundtrack, but Columbia has stuffed it with a smorgasbord of special features. Some are better than others — Ephron’s commentary track is, to put it politely, boring as hell — but the disc takes advantage of its extra storage (and shiny new technology) to provide a trio of entertaining, Child-based featurettes, including a retrospective documentary, a tour of her kitchen, and a few “cooking lessons” segments. In addition, the disc uses MovieIQ to provide the Child recipes cooked in the film — which you can e-mail to yourself via your player’s Internet connection. (Also available on DVD and Video on Demand)
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