My fun and busy Saturday (Shoreline Parade and Festival, Taproot Theatre curtain speech and Act I of Smoke on the Mountain: Homecoming, a dinner party at a friends house) ended with the whole family headed to the movies, a rare, but always memorable experience. Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron’s film about Julia Child, had to be good, right? I mean, Meryl Streep as the famous cook and Amy Adams as somebody we’d never heard of. We got there at the last minute, grabbed a couple of monster cokes to share, and settled into some seats along a side wall, the theatre more crowded than we expected.
All I can say is this: Meryl Streep is one of the great treasures of this generation, one of the two or three great actresses of the past 40 years. She’s somehow managed to rise above the shallow fame of the ubiquitous pop star, becoming an artist of the highest order, demonstrating transcendent sensibility and craft. Kramer vs. Kramer was my first experience of Streep’s work, and I remember being floored by her work (and Dustin Hoffman’s of course.) Then she devastated me in Sophie’s Choice, haunted me in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and wowed us in Out of Africa. Just reading through her resume makes me smile. Plenty, Angels in America, Doubt, Mamma Mia…a stunning run. Sure, there are some clunkers in her filmography, but it was true of Olivier and Gielgud and Judi Dench as well. (Dench being one of the other two or three great film actresses. Who’s the third?) And way back when, I even saw Streep’s televised performance of Alice (as in “Alice in Wonderland”) in a musical at Lincoln Center called Alice at the Palace. I thought, she sings too?
Streep is just what you’d expect in Julie & Julia: a sheer joy. Child was a woman of relentless vigor and perseverance, and I marveled at Streep’s seamless ability to physically inhabit the life and character of the famous cook, teasing emotions of starkly different colors into moments of great of complexity that were somehow crystal clear. There’s a moment in the film where Child receives news that Houghton-Mifflin is not going to publish her book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. She and her husband Paul, played beautifully by Stanley Tucci, are getting through the rejection as they sit on a couch together. Paul rises to the occasion and declares that someone is going to come across her book and love it. They’ll publish it, he tells her. This giant cookbook of hers will change the world. The way Streep moves between wanting to believe him and not being able to and back again is just so beautiful to see. The delicacy of faith and how it pours from one person to another is so subtle; Child’s insecurity and determination plays across her face like a lake-surface shifting to the stirring of life beneath. Just so gorgeous…dare I say rapturous?
Amy Adams plays Julie, a 20-something writer languishing in a cubicle fielding scathing customer service comments related to the 9-11 memorial. But when she cooks, she finds escape and stumbles on the idea of spending a year cooking her way through Julia Child’s book, blogging as she goes at The Julie/Julia Project (A real blog over at Salon.com), and her varying challenges and epiphanies (“murdering” lobsters was really tough) are what you’d expect. Her obsession with all things Julia Child gains here fans and a certain fame, puts enormous strain on her marriage, and leads to both career set-backs and breakthroughs. Adams’ work is solid, though a little on the whiny side, as my daughter put it.
An interesting and beautiful film–loved the soundtrack–one that made me anxious to get to work on the various projects facing me. Enchanted April, Grant and Lee, a couple of small film projects that keep running through my mind. To make just one thing that hangs together as well as Julie & Julia, or as well as one of the 500 plus recipes these Julia and Julie share–well, that’s one way of stating the goal.
Julie & Julia…made me happy…