Saturday, August 8, 2009

Ephron's JULIE/JULIA: Streep & Tucci are great but don't discount Adams & Messina

A mainstream entertainment for adults (as opposed to, say, G.I. Joe, which also opened in theaters yesterday), JULIE & JULIA offers an amazement of acting talent, starting with the much-heralded performance of Meryl Streep as Julia Child. Ms. Streep has now added so many fine feathers to her acting cap that she appears far and away the best and most versatile actress that has ever appeared on what we used to call the silver

screen. Since she's only 6o, she may yet have ten, twenty, even thirty years left to collect more plumage.

If Streep (shown below, right) were all that J&J offered, this would be more than enough to make the movie worth a watch. There's plenty else. Co-writer/director Nora Ephron (shown, right) has whipped up a credibly entertaining soufflé based on the stories of Julia Child and Julie Powell, women separated by decades but joined by the love of food. In addition to providing a decent screenplay, what Ephron and her casting directors Kathy Driscoll and Francine Maisler have done is to round up some of the best acting talent in the business -- including a number of wonderful New York theater actors -- to fill nearly each and every role with class and charisma. This is more than stunt casting, as these people know how to a nail character on the spot and take it, even in the briefest few moments given them, wherever it needs to go. Linda Emond, Remak Ramsay, Helen Carey, Stephan Bogardus, Deborah Rush, George Bartenieff, Frances Sternhagen, Jeff Brooks, the list goes on and on (Ms Emond and Ms Carey are particularly delightful as the two French friends of Child who come up with the initial cookbook idea.)

If Ms Ephron will never win an award for her direction (she was once nominated for Worst Director), she comes through with enough intelligence, flair and connect-the-dots savvy to provide humor and an interesting comparison of food-obsessed lives lived a half-century apart. And as good as is Ms Streep (and Stanley Tucci, above, left, who plays her husband Paul), I'm a little surprised at the critical response to the modern pair of lovers. Both Amy Adams (and Chris Messina, who plays her mate) are smart, attractive and talented performers who do just fine here. At this point Ms Adams (below, left) -- Junebug, Enchanted, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day -- needs no introduction, but Mr. Messina (below, right) might. Splitting his time between TV and film, he's given knockout performances in movies as different as Humboldt County and Ira & Abby (if you haven't yet seen these, do!), and here, against Ms Adams' pert charm and sometimes flailing skepticism, he provides just the right blend of easy confidence and non-pushy intelligence to ground the younger pair.

Don't expect wonders from the movie, just a reasonably good time. Though, amidst the school-boy dreck being served up by Hollywood this summer, it is certainly easy to over-praise and over-rate the film. As you may have gathered by the media blitz of late, Julie & Julia, via Sony Pictures, is playing all over town, in just about every town, now -- or very soon.

(Above and below photos are from the film itself,
except that of Ms Ephron, which is courtesy of and © WireImage.)

Star-spotting for seniors: Immediately behind us at the early evening showing yesterday on Manhattan's upper east side sat another great actress, Patricia Neal, for whom TrustMovies was pleased to move over one seat so that the lady could view the film. (Should I ever park my 6'8" frame in front of you at a movie, please accept this as my ongoing apology.) During the showing, Ms Neal's wonderfully raucous, basso laughter could be heard repeatedly; post-screening, she pronounced herself very pleased with the film.

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