Julie & Julia
(Four of five stars)
Rated PG-13/123 min.
With her exceptionally tall frame and a voice that always seemed to be on the verge of screaming, famed chef Julia Child made quite an impression. Nora Ephron’s film is a mash-up adaptation of Child’s book, My Life in France, about her early days in Paris, and of Julie Powell’s blog, which was later published as Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, in which Powell (played in the film by Amy Adams) spent the year 2002 recreating every one of Child’s delectable but often challenging recipes.
The film gives us two true stories at once. But rather than losing focus, the screenplay keeps the stories straight and makes you care equally about both of the central characters.
Meryl Streep has been imaginatively cast as Child and I bought every minute of it; her performance, like the woman she’s portraying, is larger than life. Streep steps into characters as easily as you and I put on a sweater, but this is among her most impressive achievements. Adams is wonderful as a struggling writer whose dedication, even in the face of failure, is admirable.
After helming the great Sleepless in Seattle, Ephron has spent 16 years mostly directing duds. This film is not only a return to form, but a personal best. On top of adapting a screenplay from two very different books (no easy feat), she’s once again proven to be a smart comedy writer whose affection for the characters and the material is contagious.
(Three of five stars)
Rated R/146 min.
Director Judd Apatow follows comedic gems The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up with another laugh-out-loud film that’s also more mature, risk-taking and emotionally satisfying than its predecessors. Adam Sandler plays a comic actor who deals with a mid-life crisis by going back to stand-up, where he meets a young, insecure comedian (Seth Rogen) whom he takes under his wing to mentor, but secretly needs as a friend.
Sandler is loosely playing himself, though with a darker edge and a self-loathing that will startle his frat-boy fanbase. The rest of the cast is equally excellent. Rogen underplays beautifully as a kind of lost puppy. Apatow’s wife, Leslie Mann, once again displays a knack for getting laughs even as she nails a hard-to-define role. Supporting players Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman are as good as expected, while Eric Bana gives a surprisingly inspired comic performance as a bullying Aussie businessman.
The film does leave a bitter aftertaste, and the shifts in tone make the mid-section uneven. But this is still hilarious and captivating stuff that’s smarter and deeper than you expect. Maui Time Weekly, Barry Wurst II