Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Nora and Meryl

There are not that many directors working today who's new film I want to see the very minute it opens. But one of them is Nora Ephron, and last Saturday I saw her latest film Julie & Julia, which has now come to Scotland.

Admittedly, I haven't seen Lucky Numbers (2000), and not much particularly want to either, but Ephron has a certain style and tone which I find bewitching, and that includes Bewitched (2005), although very few people liked it. She's got a delicate touch, and she makes her characters and images glow. Never more so than Sleepless in Seattle (1993), which, more than a romantic comedy, is a film about grief and loss, which it handles intelligently and very moving. Michael (1996) and You've Got Mail (1998) are also very good. I honestly couldn't say if I prefer Lubitsch's earlier version (The Shop Around the Corner 1940) or Ephron's.

And now there's Julie & Julia, which tells the kind of story that is so ridiculous that it has to be based on a true story. Which it is. It's the story of Julia Child, the tall American woman who, after having worked as a spy during World War II (if you google her you'll get links to CIA), went to France with her diplomatic husband, took a cooking class and then wrote a book which changed the way Americans cook their food. And it's the story about Julie Powell, who in 2002 started a blog, writing about how she cooked herself through Julia Child's cook book. Now, to be honest, which of these two stories do you find most interesting? Me, I couldn't care less for Julie Powell's blogging. And even though Amy Adams is good in the role of Julie Powell, it's just not why I bought the ticket. I wanted to see Meryl Streep as Julia Child. And I was not disappointed. That part of the film was tender, witty, moving and delicious, and these days that has gone since I saw it, the feelings it awoke in me has stayed on.

It's in many ways a Nora Ephron film, just as it is a Meryl Streep film. The Ephron part is for instance the little gestures and hesitations that tells so much but are so quiet and brief, like when Julie Powell mumbles her delight and affection for her husband, or the first scene which implies that Julia Child can't have children. There's also the very Ephronian concept of the film, of a person's life, unbeknownst to him or her, touching someone else's, of having the main characters hardly or never meeting.

The Streep part is obviously her performance. It's a complete makeover yet again, so rich in body language and syntax it's uncanny, without ever going over the top. She becomes the person she's playing, and gives the role so much depth and nuance. It's brilliant.

Here's Stephanie Zacharek review in Salon. (Good as always.)

And here's the real Julia, guest at Letterman:

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