Monday, December 14, 2009

Meryl and Amy

In the past couple of years, I have seen Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in two movies together. The first was "Doubt" in which Meryl plays Sister Aloysius, the principal of a Catholic school in the Bronx. Amy Adams plays Sister James, a young, naive teacher at the school, and she finds herself butting heads with the hard-boiled Sister Aloysius. Both of their performances are seamless, and there is a wonderful chemistry between the two actresses.

This week I finally got around to seeing "Julie and Julia". I'm sure all of you have seen it, but in case you have been living on the dark side of the moon, it is the story of Julie Powell, a blogger who decided to cook all 524 of Julia Child's recipes in her cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". She gave herself a deadline of 365 days to finish the project, and she blogged about it as she went along. The blog was later made into a book and then into the movie "Julie and Julia".

Meryl Streep is the reigning queen of cinema, and long may she reign, but in this particular movie I felt her performance was a bit synthetic, almost like a museum piece. Meryl called on her usual tics and quirky mannerisms, and combined with Julia Child’s tics and quirky mannerisms, it became a bit distracting. She had Julia Child's voice and awkward characteristics down pat. I found myself watching her segment of the movie thinking, “Oh, what a good job Meryl Streep is doing mimicking Julia Child”, instead of being engrossed in the movie. It’s always a bad sign when you’re aware of someone’s acting. To me, it felt more like a caricature, such as we might see on "Saturday Night Live". But I think I am probably the only person in the entire known universe who has this opinion of Meryl Streep's performance in this role.

Amy Adams as Julia Powell, on the other hand, was more engaging. She was warm, real, and relaxed. Amy Adams has a lovely way of speaking, quite meticulous, and her performance was seamless. She was entirely believable as a young woman from Queens who has bitten off more than she can chew -- so to speak. The day-to-day successes and failures of her ambitious project put her into highs and lows with which we can all relate. Her total physical, emotional and psychological collapse when she burnt the boeuf bourguignon she was preparing for an important dinner, was funny and sad and somehow poignant, and my heart went out to her. At the end of the movie, Julie receives the devastating news that Julia Child has heard of her and does not approve of her. Julia called her "disrespectful". I have read Julie's blog, and she drops the "F" bomb -- a lot. I can understand why Julia Child would not approve of that, and I wondered why it is even necessary to do it. She continues to do it to this day on her blog, and all I can think is, "Why? It's a cooking blog, for crying out loud. Is the "F" word really necessary?"

Meryl has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance as Julia Child, and she will probably be nominated for an Oscar too. I love Meryl Streep and she is always wonderful, and I think it's really difficult to take on the role of someone who is already an icon. The movie is a lot of fun and I enjoyed every minute of it. Don't watch it while you're hungry. You'll come away craving cheese soufflé and chocolate mousse -- and lots and lots of butter.


Inty swetha said...

I watched Doubt .. and loved both of them.. esp Meryl is one of my Favorite actress.. she is extremely talented in doing any kind of role!!
i have to watch this movie..

KathyB. said...

My husband and I both went to see Julie, Julia and loved it. I have not read the blog so I am not as of yet distracted by it . I will probably buy the DVD of this movie and I think I will have to see the first movie you talked about, Doubt...

I think both actresses were fine in this movie and my husband and I think we just might make a few of the recipes she and Julia made. If you're in the area Jo we'd love to have you enjoy dinner with us, and we could discuss this even further!

Bruce Coltin said...

I plan on seeing the movie in the next week or two. I wonder if I would have noticed those tics and mannerisms, if I hadn't read your post. Anyway, it sounds like a great analysis.

SparkleFarkle said...

I go out of my way (and then some) to watch every movie Meryl Streep movie I can get my little mitties on and, so far, this is the only one I was reluctant to watch. I love Ms. Streep, I love Amy Adams, and who doesn't simply adore Julia Child?! Sorry to Julie and Julia, though. I was right: it was a "recipe" that just didn't work for me. On the plus side, it was nice and cozy remembering Julia Child, and "appreciating" (?) Dan Akroyd's "tribute" to her. I rented the DVD and did enjoy watching the Bonus Features capturing Meryl Streeps built-up shoes and other "tricks of the trade" used to help establish her character.

*cups hand to ear* Regretfully, I don't hear any Oscar bells ringing.

Alissa said...

I haven't watched Julie and Julia, and am not sure that I will. For some reason, it doesn't appeal to me. OK, I am not much of a cook, and have never been able to see the appeal in cooking shows, but I realize the movie is more that one big cooking show. I have heard nothing but praise for "Doubt" though, and think I will have to watch that one.

Land of shimp said...

I thought Doubt was one of the most remarkable films I had seen in quite some time, in part because the performances were stellar. The title entirely fitting, because at the end of the movie, I was in the exact same emotional space as the characters Streep and Adams portrayed.

I do have to take a moment to praise the stuffing out of Philip Seymour Hoffman who gives an astonishing performance. He never gives away what precisely, if anything, this priest is guilty of doing, but he manages to make the audience deeply, deeply uncomfortable without giving us very specific clues as to why. Although Streep and Adams were fantastic, I think the key to the movie is that Hoffman presents us with a person who makes us understand both Adams' and Streep's reactions entirely.

The whole thing worked as well as an intricately crafted machine, and none of those performances, or audience reactions, end up being possible without those key ingredients.

I think that when playing an iconic figure, there is always going to be the pitfall of mimicking that well known individual. I do feel that Streep went beyond that, and showed us some of the more emotional sides to a very well known person. I mentioned Hoffman above, and he played Truman Capote, another well known individual as famous for his odd personal presentation as anything else. A huge part of Child's (well deserved) fame is that she wasn't what people were expecting, she was very different. It had to have been a huge acting challenge, and having one of the best known actresses of our time play one of the best known culinary figures was going to be fraught with peril.

I think Streep did marvelously with a deck stacked against her, but again, the movie can't entirely overcome that deck.

I like Amy Adams tremendously, and it was only because of Adams that I ended up liking Powell at all. I found her whiny, and childish, actually. I kept wanting to tell her to buck up, and couldn't help but wonder how she would handle a real problem if she was so easily reduced to a quivering pile of defeatism.

I don't really think Child's "disrespectful" remark was about Powell's swearing, although in the movie Powell believes that to be the case. I think what it was likely about had nothing to do with profanity and was one of my problems with Powell in the movie: She ends up gaining recognition by grafting off of someone who did all the heavy-lifting before her and she does so without the permission of that (at the time) still living individual.

Powell didn't just cook her recipes, she frequently referenced what she believed Child would do, or say, and even wrote about her imagined relationship with Julia Child. What Child would say to her, etc.

Julie Powell chose to believe that Julia Child -- who had a no nonsense, almost earthy quality -- thought it was disrespectful to tie Child into a blog that contained a lot of profanity.

I think it is just as likely that Julia Child used the term disrespectful simply because Powell used her name, her personality, her history without so much as a by-your-leave.

I am glad for Powell, that she experienced success and lord knows she actually worked like a dog to do it. But that is indicative of why I didn't particularly like Powell in the movie: She had a very hard time separating what was truly about her, and what wasn't. As portrayed in the movie, Powell has a very hard time seeing beyond her own nose, in absolutely everything.

When her friends are successful, Powell begrudges them that success, and makes it about her. As the movie opens, she's taking calls from people who have lost people in the Twin Towers on 9/11, and this is probably where she lost me for absolute good, she makes that about her also.

"Don't yell at me! I'm the good guy!"

Powell seemingly has a very hard time understanding that a lot of times in life, it ain't about you, kid.

Shiirazi said...

Wish to see!

Jennifer D said...

Oh how I hate the F word. I think it is way over used.

I haven't seen Julie and Julia yet but I am looking forward to it. I thought Doubt was fantastic and I think we will be seeing a lot more for both actresses.

Charles Gramlich said...

I will probably give this one a pass.

Carol E. said...

I have not seen Doubt but now I will have to.. and I LOVED Meryl in Julie and Julia. Unlike you, I found myself thinking she was Julia Child. I forgot she was Meryl Streep. That's a fabulous acting job, in my book. I wonder why we had such different reactions? Funny. I guess that's what makes the world go 'round.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I thought Doubt was marvelous, and that Streep was her usual incredible self. I was also impressed with Amy Adams portrayal of the young nun. I have not seen Julie and Julia yet although I learned to cook from Julia's first cookbook. I bought the book made from Julie's blog awhile ago but found it deadly dull and couldn't get through it, which was quite disappointing.

As a former actor, I think that your comments about Meryl's performance are astute because it is impossible to avoid becoming a caricature when portraying someone as well-known as Ms. Child. If Meryl Streep can't do it, it cannot be done.

Nicole said...

I have to agree with what Land Of Shimp wrote. That is excatly how I felt about the movie and Julie Powell. However I did like the movie and it sure did make me HUNGRY!

Nancy said...

I loved the movie, but then blogging and cooking are both close to my heart. I didn't come away with the same feeling about Meryle - she took me back to the time when Julia was on TV. But I do agree that the F-bomb in unnecessary. Especially in a food blog.

Katy said...

I love Doubt. Everyone it gave a great performance.

As to Julie and Julia, I haven't seen the moive, but I read the book. That was enough.

@Shimp.. your comment, "Powell seemingly has a very hard time understanding that a lot of times in life, it ain't about you, kid." sums up the my thoughts on Powell, as she pertrays herself in her book very nicely.

Cloudia said...

A different "take" on J&J than the critics. Somehow I believe YOU more.

Aloha, Friend!

Comfort Spiral

Mia said...

Meryl Streep is an excellent actor and deserves all the praise she gets. Not everything she touches turns to gold but her great performances eclipse the not so great and most of her fellow actors as well.

TheChicGeek said...

Great review, Jo. I LOVE Meryl Streep. It's interesting what you said about her performance because I know several other people who said the same thing!
And sadly, I am living on the dark side of the moon, as I have not seen this movie yet! I need to see more movies...LOL!!!
Have a Happy Day, Jo :)

C S said...

Hi Jo,

I saw J&J a few days ago on an airplane - had wanted to see it since it was released.

I've liked JC for a long time and LOVED 'My Life in France.' I also really enjoyed the 'J&J' book a couple years ago.

The book made me go back to Julie Powell's blog - read some of it - understood where the book was coming from. Both use the F word a lot (too much for me but not for most people, I guess). I could see that as a (not necessarily THE) reason JC would not have been overly enamored of the blog.

As for Meryl Streep's performance in J&J -- as great an actress as she is -- I couldn't agree with you more. I thought her performance was waaaay OTT with the accent, the mannerisms (and not a Streep thing but the over-emphasis IMO on JC's height - sheesh, give me a break - of course I'm nearly that tall, too, but still - it was so OTT as to be a caricature and JC was, after all, serious in some ways).

So I think your 'review' is spot on! I still really enjoyed the movie and Amy Adams was cute and engaging.

Just my two cents.

Just Joany said...

I've wondered about this movie. Now, I simply must go see it. I loved Julia Child and would love to see her played by Meryl Streep. I do hope our tiny little theater gets this movie in. Thanks for sharing. ~ Just Joany
Red Wagon Flights

Jo said...

Inty, I think Meryl is my favorite actress too. I love Meryl Streep.

Kathy, thank you! My goodness, I would love to have dinner with you and your husband. And yes, it was a fabulous movie. You will love Doubt as well.

Bruce, oh, the tics and mannerisms are very noticeable, but it is still an enjoyable performance.

Sparkle, Meryl has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this role, so I imagine an Oscar nomination in the works too. Oh, well...

Alisa, Doubt is a wonderful move. I think you will enjoy it -- a lot...! :-)

Alane, Philip Seymour Hoffman is my favorite actor. He could read the phone book, and I would watch. And yes, Julie Powell is a bit self-serving, I agree. Amy Adams' performance as Julie Powell was wonderful, I thought. And yes, she was whiny and childish, wasn't she? :-)

Shiiraz, you will love it!

Jennifer, they have a wonderful chemistry together, and they're both fabulous actresses!

Charles, well, it is really more of a "chick flick" anyway.

Carol, it's funny how people are different. I found myself watching Meryl's acting, rather than the movie. Strange, hey?

Susan, my mother always used to watch Julie Child, and I saw some of her shows too, and Meryl's performance was closer to caricature in my opinion. I could be wrong, though, as I often am... :-)

Nicole, oh yes, I loved the movie. And it made me hungry too - for French food. *heh*

Nancy, yes, I have read Julie Powell's blog, and I keep wondering who she is trying to impress, dropping the "F" bomb all the time.

Katy, wasn't Doubt fabulous? I have seen it three times. And yes, Julie Powell seems to be very self-serving.

Cloudia, Meryl's performance seemed very contrived to me. But, I have known to be wrong before... :-)

Mia, I think Meryl Streep is one of the greatest actresses -- ever. She can play any role. I just found her a bit "over-the-top" in "Julie and Julia".

Kelly, gosh! I'm not the only one who had that assessment of her role as Julia Child? I'll be darned! You will love the movie.

CS, my gosh, someone else who felt the same way I do. I think Meryl could have pulled it back just a little bit, and it might have been more "true to life". If people watch the real Julia Child, she was not quite so over-the-top. Meryl's performance was a caricature, wasn' it?

Just Joany, it was a wonderful movie. You'll love it I know. The Julie Powell segment is much more true to life and amusing. Let me know what you think of it when you see it. :-)

Country Girl said...

Ordered it from Netflix and it will be here tomorrow. Thanks, Jo!!