It appears that responses to Julie & Julia come in two basic styles:

-The Meryl Streep half of the movie is fantastic, and the Amy Adams half is breezy enough that the whole counts as a successful entertainment, without anything that's going to make you regret the price of a ticket.

-The Meryl Streep half of the movie is fantastic, but the Amy Adams half is shallow enough, and too inclined towards writer-director Nora Ephron's worst habits, that it manages to wreck what would otherwise be a good enough bit of fun, leaving it a disappointment, at best.

Since I am by trade a cranky old grouch, I suppose that regular readers can probably guess which of those two camps I fall into. That said, I was on the fence about it for quite a while. Because while the Amy Adams half of the movie is decidedly flawed (and, to be perfectly fair, the Meryl Streep half isn't exactly Citizen Kane), its greatest sin is to be sleepy and inoffensive, and that doesn't exactly make for a terrible night out. While every last moment of Streep's screentime is pretty much amazing, largely by dint of Streep bringing along her A-game to perform one of the most iconic women in 20th Century pop culture, and doing it in a way that avoids every single one of the pitfalls awaiting most biopic performances.

I do not want to humiliate you, o reader, by suggesting that you've managed to miss the marketing blitz, so this next little bit where I go on about the plot is strictly pro forma: Streep plays Julia - as in, Julia Child, world-renowned cookbook author and television host who is generally, and accurately, cited as the single person most responsible for introducing the notion of haute cuisine into American kitchens; in an age when mixes and mealtime gimmicks were all the range, she had the cast-iron balls to put out a book, hundreds of pages long, explaining how to create some of the fussiest, most time-intensive, and best-tasting meals, desserts, sauces and sides known to gourmands. While Adams plays Julie - Julie Powell, who in 2002, finding life was not panning out very well, started up a blog called The Julie/Julia Project, documenting her efforts to cook her way through all 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, a project largely designed for Powell's own private edification. Since those were the Dark Ages of the blogosphere - we had not yet learned the elegant art of photoshopping humorously misspelled captions onto amusing photographs of cats, if you can even imagine such barbarism - and the only things you could read online were Powell's blog or Glenn Reynolds,* she quickly became quite the online celebrity, enjoying newspaper articles, a book offer, and seven years later, the sight of the cute as a box of buttons Amy Adams playing her in a major Hollywood movie.

Let us begin with the good; and it is named Meryl. By this point, there is not a single human being who's been paying the least amount of attention who ought to claim surprise at the fact that The Magnificent Streep can knock out some of the best performances in moviedom basically in her sleep, so when I say that her work as Julia Child is among the most charming, wonderful, touching things she's done all decade, I hope you can appreciate what a very big thing it is that I'm saying. It is one of the finest biopic performances of the modern age: first, take a woman whose vocal patterns and behaviors are known to literally millions of people, and copy them in every last detail. For most actors, this would be the performance; ah, but The Magnificent Streep, she is just getting started. For her, Julia Child's tremendously unyoooshual habit of streaatching ooowwwwwt her her vowwueeells is merely a hook upon which a mighty act of characterisation is to be hung. This is a Julia Child who is no TV personality, but a woman in full, with needs intellectual, emotional, and sexual; for whom a love of eating begot a love of cooking, and that love of cooking naturally led into her desire to share that love not just because she wanted an identity all her own, but because she genuinely believed that the whole world could share her love if only she could find the right platform.

Of course, this is a comedy and not a Cassavetes picture, so there's another half to her performance; it is tremendously playful and even silly. I'd say that I cannot recall the last time Streep was having such obvious fun on camera, except that I can - it was called Mamma Mia!, and it was awful. So let us settle for saying that it has been forever and a day since she was having so much fun in something wherein it is also fun to watch her - The Devil Wears Prada comes close, but there is something truly special about her Julia. It infects everything about her whole half of the storyline: the Parisian locations are extra-romantic because she is sauntering through them, the always-reliable Stanley Tucci's performance as her indelibly patient husband is even more charming and pleasing to watch, since he is bouncing off of her. The great, under-used Jane Lynch's brief cameo as Julia's sister was almost enough to make me die of ecstasy, watching those two actresses goof around with each other.

Then, the other part: it would be too easy to just say, "the Julie Powell plotline just isn't as interesting", but there's more to it than that. Amy Adams is a fine actress, who I do very much love to watch in things. But she is straitjacketed by this role. Of course, Julie Powell was a legitimate human being, and certain truths must be maintained in telling her story, but there's a certain curdled unpleasantness about everything involving her. She works in an office dealing with the issues of 9/11 survivors, and the families of victims; yet her great crisis is that her successful friends are all snooty an' shit. Her act of grand self-actualisation involves the active reduction of her very patient husband (Chris Messina, the guy you get when you go to the five-and-dime and ask for their best mock-Mark Ruffalo) to the role of supporting player; an act of willful ignorance that becomes all the more obnoxious after the very brief spat where he almost leaves her for about two days, and comes back because he knows he loves her. All this means is that her outsized solipsism has moved from being unconscious to being very conscious indeed. Basically, she's a selfish monster, and when her friend half-jokingly calls her a bitch, it's extraordinarily hard not to agree. Yet this is meant to be the Meg Ryan character (Nora Ephron being a writer much given over to writing the Meg Ryan character, and why not? She invented the Meg Ryan character), the bubbly perky gal with the can-do attitude. Well fuck me, but I kind of disliked her. And even if I didn't the fact would remain that the Julie half of the plot is almost totally free of anything approximately like "drama", and that much of it involves the deeply uncinemati act of watching Julie type on her computer.

Though I must confess myself weirdly amazed to watch the travails of a blogger; if there is any subject that I need to see less onscreen than this, I cannot name it. Incidentally, Julie's faithful commentariat sends her presents and PayPal tips. PRESENTS and PAYPAL TIPS, I say again for no particular reason. Also, a propos of nothing, blogging platforms were indescribably crude back in 2002.

And then, just to cover all the bases, is the unavoidable fact that Ephron is just not that gifted a filmmaker. There are hardly any moments in either half of the story that don't have an overly crowded mise en scรจne, as though the director was first concerned with putting as much as she could into the frame. Shots are often composed without the proper balance, so that people will often be almost all the way to one side of the frame, and looking off that side at someone else. In the hands of a truly gifted stylist, this can be bracing and thrilling. In Ephron's hands, it feels like a shitty student film. And I would just as soon not mention the editing, which is truly dismal; full of easily avoided continuity gaffs and some of the most incompetent matches on action I recall seeing in recent months. Just about the only thing she does right is to handle the back-and-forth switching from one time frame to the other with something a bit like grace.

And The Magnificent Streep; Ephron also has the good sense to stay out of her way. Now, I can't tell you if the right thing for you to do is to see an essentially failed movie, just because the lead actress is 1000% on fire. For me, that's a good enough compensation to keep me from hating - or even, really disliking - Julie & Julia. But that is a matter for private reflection on the part of each individual viewer. Lord knows there's not much else about the movie to bother with.

6/10