By Admin | August 7, 2009

A Different Kind of Internet Stalking

Here’s an entry in what we could call “Streep camp”: recent films in which the longtime star drops vocal and gestural whims while donning movie costumes. No slouch of a thespian, Steep always delivers, even if the results register all over the map. Her performance in “Doubt” plays too stern and effective to be campy, although we’d bet her photo as Sister Aloysius Beauvier, face stern and tied in the headwear, has shown up in a gay bar or two. Her Miranda Priestly in “The Devil Wears Prada” is more like it – her subtle mannerisms that blow up into a fiery bitchiness veer the proceeds towards comedy. As effective as Streep may be, it seems that she just wants to entertain these days.

And hence, her role as Julia Child, the tight-throated cooking show star, is a sure win. While nailing Child’s vocal mannerisms, Streep embodies her upstanding gait and unflappable gestures. From most performers, such a thing would wear faster than a skit. Yet Streep always finds a new phrase or gesture that brings things back to the funny bone.

Based on two related books, “Julie & Julia” interweaves the story of Child’s unlikely culinary education in France with a contemporary blogger’s cooking apprenticeship. That Child was once a far cry from culinary excellence seems almost bizarre today. In her first days in Paris, as the wife of a State Department employee, her personality is infectious, allowing her to become an instant friend to the Parisians. She decides to act on her longtime love of food, and her enrollment in a French preparatory program is like fate unwinding. A future cultural force has expanded its wings.

The second narrative line concerns Julie, a college grad turning 30 who takes complaints concerning 9/11 compensation over the phone. Having never reached her potential, she has relocated from Brooklyn to Queens and feels an overall down slide after the move. Soon Julie discovers the budding blogosphere of 2002 and reclaims her love for cooking. She calls to Julia Child as her muse and vows to cook everything from Child’s opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, within a year.

Beyond “Streep camp,” “Julie and Juila” falls into the drone of current historical movies, namely, the time-travel period treatment. I’d guess that the folks behind entries including the miserable and overpraised “The Reader” (will Kate Winslet decline with this as her long-anticipated Oscar win?), “The Hours,” “The Notebook,” and the fast-approaching “Time Travelers Wife” worry that history is stale for audiences. So the “modern” viewers get their modern perspective within the story, usually with a romantic interests. (I guess we have to rely on literary adaptations for decent historical drama – or tales of war and intrigue.) The choice to try the past-and-present device out on lighter comic material is curious. But Streep proves to be the only comedy found there.

Julie, the other half of the film and the more dramatic element, drags down Julia as much as would a stalker fan. It’s not that the narrative threads aren’t balanced, as some viewers have claimed. The events of Julia’s rise, an inspiring tale about a winner who we want to win, coincide with Julie’s struggles and successes when learning tough dishes and gaining publicity. It’s as if Child, herself an inspiring teacher, is leading generations through a trek similar to hers. Julie’s story lacks excitement, since Amy Adams performs as bland as her first failing dishes. A sizable helping of screen time shows Julie speaking in voiceover, as she blogs about her attempts to be Julia. As lovely as Adams may be, we can take only so much of her blank stare before a computer screen – it’s as if “Sex in the City’s” Carrie Bradshaw has returned with a new fetish. Julie’s cutesy voiceover attempts to move forward the immovable.

Similarly, Julie’s husband, Eric, plays such the perfect mod mate that he’s a throwaway. Played by Chris Messina – who’s beginning to specialize in doormat hubbies – Eric assists Julie in the kitchen and warms her with inspiration from the couch, until the script shoves him out of their apartment, making Julie vulnerable and our patience testy. In previous roles, Adams has shown that her energy can match Streep’s, but here the former is full-out dull, though not the film’s only lead weight. As written, her character is formula straight out of the can. Granted, it’s refreshing to see a story about the quiet masses awakening themselves out of intellectual stupor. Blogspot is a worthy land of opportunity for such, if only its presence here didn’t smell of populist ego massaging. The average Joe thinks writing to be nothing more than typing, and “Julie & Julia” presents self-publication as nothing more than an extended email message. (You’d think veteran screenwriter/director Nora Ephron, who’s also a novelist, would show something more, but perhaps there’s isn’t much in Julie Powell’s material.) In the thick of media explosion, if one can type out sentences in continuum, than he thinks himself a potential writer. I think that music is an apt analogy here. Pick up an instrument for the first time and you’ll be able to make sounds. Will they amass to anything good? That’s the modern blogger’s dilemma.

Julie had shown promise as the editor of her college’s publication, so the script attempts to set her apart from the average Blogspot user. Underemployed with bitchy exec friends, Julie moreso repeats Amy Adams role in “Sunshine Cleaning.” That film, about a house cleaner who stumbles upon lucrative crime-scene cleanup, develops character, and we accept her obstacles to be life that has to be lived with. Julie’s setbacks are dealt out like the hand in a game we don’t want to play anymore. We want to drop the cards and stay over at Julia’s winning table.

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