While it's more of a mildly appetizing diversion than the sumptuously great cinematic dish we should have gotten from a film featuring actresses of Amy Adams and Meryl Streep's calibers, JULIE & JULIA is a fine attempt at coalescing two stories that would seem somewhat inert if they weren't buttressed by the talents of the two actresses who occupy the title roles. The film gives us a fully delectable examination of the epicurean world from the perspectives of each of the two female protagonists, and it also provides a compelling analysis of two relationships and of the different ways in which the two men in each of these two women's lives coped with staying committed to them, despite at times feeling like they had become of secondary importance as their wives focused on each of their culinary pursuits.
As if we needed further evidence of her infinite talent, Meryl Streep is absolutely astonishing in the role of Julia Child. She is a hoot to watch, hysterically funny. It's truly amazing when an actor or actress that you have seen in so many other films manages to make you FORGET that you're watching the actor or actress, and instead submerges you with him/her in the character that he/she is playing, and that's what Streep does here. Watching her as the delightfully free-spirited legend of cooking, one even forgets about her equally magnificent, yet entirely different, performance in last year's DOUBT. Speaking of DOUBT, once again Streep pairs up with Amy Adams, and to be honest, if it were up to me, I'd love it if they both continued doing films together, if this is the result we'll constantly get in terms of their performances. Adams' role is obviously less meaty and not nearly as challenging as Streep's, but the younger actress still handles Julie Powell's emotional moments admirably.
As much as it would seem like these two stories would fit perfectly well together, there's something missing here that makes JULIE & JULIA fall short of being more than just good, despite the wonderful performances. Half of the film is about Julia Child's struggle to get her cooking book published, and the other half is about Julie Powell's struggle to cook her way through Child's recipes in a year (while blogging the entire venture). So, it would seem like there wouldn't be much problem intercutting from one story to another within a single film. However, the problem is that the transitions from one story to the other aren't particularly fluid here, and they're sometimes a bit disconcerting. The parallelisms are weak. I'm not sure that I would have liked them to make two separate films about each of the two characters (as that may be stretching it a bit much), but perhaps it would have worked better if we had seen a full hour of Julia's story, followed by a full hour of Julie's story (which took place several years later).
The other problem to be found in JULIE & JULIA is the fact that things sort of hit a lull around the halfway point, and this is because there's only so much you can show of Julia's concoctions and of Julie's cooking fiascos before things get repetitive. This is where the immense strength of the performances is felicitous, because Adams and Streep at least maintain a level of watchability even as the plot starts to wear thin.
Thankfully, though, the final moments of the film are handled nicely. Several signs seem to indicate that the film is going to have a conventional ending featuring a meeting between the two title characters, but we don't quite get what we expect. In fact, there's a point in the film during which we get some (surprising) information about Child's opinion on Julie's blog, and this is the kind of plot thread that begs to be resolved into a neat little package by the standard conventions of Hollywood, but instead, it remains unresolved, which is a welcome surprise.
JULIE & JULIA may not be tour de force filmmaking, but it sure is a tour de force of acting, particularly in the case of Streep, who (once again) gives one of the best performances of the year so far. Her presence alone is worth the admission price.