TAC editor S.T. Karnick is right that Julie & Julia is likely to enjoy a profitable run for the rest of the summer. And while I'm not normally a fan of Nora Ephron movies (I am a man, after all), this film is worth seeing with the love of your life if only to watch Meryl Streep's charming and captivating Julia Child impression, Jim Lakely writes.
But even in this cute little movie, Ephron can't help but take political shots at nonliberals—one of which was perhaps the most jarring I can ever remember watching.
My wife and I saw Julie & Julia last night. It was a nice film, but one that is hard to characterize. It's not quite a romantic comedy—though there are funny moments and the depiction of the genuine, lifelong romance between Julia Child and her husband is the sweetest expression of loving, marital devotion on film since the opening scenes of Up.
It's not quite a biopic, either, though it recounts the life Julia Child led starting from he move to Paris after World War II to her finally getting her iconic cooking book published, as well as the much-less-interesting life of the Julie Powell (played delightfully by Amy Adams, who has now taken for good the "Meg Ryan" mantle Hollywood's been trying in vain to pass off for more than a decade).
In fact, in the dueling plots of the film, one is most struck by how substantive, intelligent, generous, determined and talented Julia Child is compared to the shallow, jealous, defeatist, pseudo-intellectual Julie Powell.
It's not entirely Julie's fault. She is the product of a much more narcissistic age, and she gets points for embarking on an ambitious project—trying to cook every recipe in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and blogging about it every day. And Julie does it because she has genuine admiration for Julia Child.
But as you watch the film, you really wish there were lots more Julia and a lot less Julie. Meryl Streep is probably a good bet for another Oscar nomination. Critics may complain that Streep is merely doing an impression of Child, but that's to sell the performance short. Yes, Streep has Child's unique voice spot on, and has captured Child's mannerisms, as well. But Streep transcends merely aping Child and plays her with nuance, emotion and sophistication. Streep as Julia Child is one of the more entertaining and interesting performances I've seen this year.
But now we get to the point of this post—the jarring and totally unnecessary injection of leftist politics that nearly ruined the movie for me and likely countless others who are not partisan liberal Democrats.
WARNING: A FEW SPOILERS AHEAD
There is a subplot in the Julia Child half of the film in which her diplomat husband is worried that they'll be transferred out of their beloved Paris because of McCarthyism. Paul and Julia, you see, once traveled to China (Julia was posted there working as a file clerk for the OSS). And the evil McCarthy is stirring up trouble back in Washington—trying to destroy the lives of good people who have given their lives to "government service."
Ephron, a committed liberal, returns to this theme several times—all the while leaving out the important fact that despite the excesses of McCarthy, there actually were communists and Soviet agents who had infiltrated high levels of the U.S. government.
Paul is called back to Washington and subject to three days of questioning. He's exonerated of any communist sympathies, but Paul and Julia are eventually transferred out of Paris. Ephron leaves the audience with the impression he's transferred because he came under suspicion by McCarthy, even if that is not necessarily the case.
Now, I have not read Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France, but she does write about the McCarthy hearings and how it affected their life, and it is reasonable to bring it up in the movie. However, by the fifth time Ephron brings it up, it starts to have less of a feel of historical accuracy and more of gratuitous reflection of one of Hollywood's most popular pastimes: exhuming McCarthy to burn him in effigy. OK. We get it.
And was it really necessary to have to have a scene in which Child argues with her Republican father in Pasadena and Dear Old (and mean) Dad defends McCarthy with a scowl and very nearly some spittle? C'mon. It comes off as ludicrously forced.
But that's not even the worst of it. Julie Powell works in a cubicle answering phone calls from the development corporation that owned the World Trade Center—in 2002. She gets numerous calls from family members of people killed in the 911 attacks, as well as people complaining about the plans to build something on the hallowed ground. She calls in sick to work one day, obviously feigning illness, and her boss calls her into his office the next day to chew her out. At the end, the boss says, "A lot of people want your job. If I was a Republican, I'd fire you!" Seriously.
That comes from so far out of left field (pun intended) that it rises to the level of unintentional liberal Hollywood self-parody. In fact, it is among the most glaring examples of liberal Hollywood fantasyland thinking I've ever seen in a film. It's so out of place, Powell's boss might as well have said, "If I was an alien from planet Loon, I'd lick your elbow!"
Let's remember the context here. Republican New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was still revered as probably the greatest hero in the history of that great city. Republican president George W. Bush was still riding high in the public opinion polls (even if this screed was delivered in 2003). Republicans were still in control of Congress, and also enjoying similar popularity in the United States. Yet Ephron ignores all this and instead fantasizes that in 2002-2003, ordinary folks were using the word "Republican" as a stand-in for "heartless monster."
The line landed with a thud — like a Cornish game hen slipping off the counter and onto the kitchen floor. Only blind and enduring disgust, if not hatred, for those who differ from one's political views can explain such a jarring, tin-eared line of dialogue.
My wife is still in the process of reading Powell's book, upon which the film is partly based, and she informs me that the author peppers the book with gratuitous shots at Republicans (not just politicians, but ordinary people who don't vote "D" every time) that are similarly out of place. Hence one might surmise that Ephron was trying to reflect the tone of the source material with all this political badgering.
But that's no excuse for bad writing, The movie would have been more enjoyable, and less insulting to half of its audience, if Ephron left it out.