Real life is rarely well structured enough to make a good film, but dual-tracked biopic Julie & Julia (2009) avoids this issue, by paralleling the lives of two women across time, and focusing on theme rather than event. The result is an engrossing film about women searching for meaning and fulfillment through cooking and the written word.
The characters of the title are Julia Child (Meryl Streep), the famous cookbook writer and television personality, and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a Gen-X blogger who, in the early 2000s, undertook to make every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook over the course of a year. The film alternates viewpoints, balancing the two stories throughout, following Julia and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) across Europe in the late forties and fifties as she builds her skills and develops her career, and then shifting to Julie and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) in contemporary New York as the blogging project strains her marriage before eventually becoming an unexpected phenomenon. How the film ties these connected, but ultimately quite different, storylines together without overplaying one or the other is quite a trick — it’s easy to think that the Julia scenes, boosted by Streep’s brilliant, award-caliber performance, steal the show, but the Julie scenes hold their own, and provide an an effective, contemporary window through which to view the past.
The film’s strengths are many, beginning with the acting, of course. Streep is spectacular as Julia in what is sure to be another Oscar performance, and Amy Adams is characteristically winning as Julie (perhaps moreso than her real-life character warranted, or so I’ve heard); both are ably supported by their respective beta husbands, Tucci and Messina. The film also provides an excellent view into the struggles of the creative process, and does a great job of recapturing each represented era. But for all its historical interest and thespic firepower, the film is also a comedy through and through, really quite funny throughout. And probably its biggest, and most unique, strength is that it actually gets women. So few Hollywood productions do that, it just leaps out at you here. It has the feel of a romantic comedy, but both female protagonists aren’t looking for love — they already have strong relationships. Instead, they’re seeking fulfillment in something other than men! (If you see it for no other reason, see it for this; Hollywood could certainly stand to get the message that there’s more to life than Matthew McConaughey.) I’m finding it hard to find much bad to say about this one — a very good, enjoyable film! (And if a week ago, you’d told me I’d like it more than District 9, I probably would have rolled my eyes!)