I don’t think there’s any real question that Meryl Streep is the finest actor of her generation. And at the risk of indulging in hyperbole, it might be safe to say at this point that she’s the finest actor of any generation.
Can you even conceive of a movie review that goes something like this: “The film is quite good but for the flat leading performance by Ms. Streep”? Of course not.
On the other hand, I’ve read plenty of reviews along these lines: “The film has its shortcomings but Ms. Streep’s commanding performance elevates the material.” Indeed, her very presence makes every film she’s in at least a little bit better.
In the case of Julie & Julia, the latest from writer-director Nora Ephron, Streep’s performance as famous chef Julia Child not only elevates the material but at times makes it simply transcendent. It’s a given year after year that Streep will be nominated for an Academy Award but I’ll go out on a limb six months out and say it’s finally her turn to win another one.
Streep’s Julia Child is an expert impersonation — the voice, posture and body movements are all pitch perfect — but her real triumph is not in the mimicry but in how she brings Child to life. Here’s a woman we know only through television clips being impersonated on a movie screen… but Streep makes it feel like you’re spying on your next door neighbor.
Much of the credit goes, of course, to Ephron, who has written a deliciously witty script and stayed out of the way as a director — this is her strongest work in many years. And Stanley Tucci as Child’s adoring husband is worthy of his own Academy Award nomination for his charming portrayal.
And while I’m talking about Academy Award nominations, why not make some room for Jane Lynch in the Supporting category. Her brief turn as Child’s sister could be the most enjoyable ten minutes I’ve spent in a theater so far this year. It’s exactly the sort of spark the best character actors deliver.
I’ve gone this long without mentioning the “Julie” part of Julie & Julia, and I don’t intend that as a slight to Amy Adams. Adams has emerged as a fine actor in her own right, with roles as varied as the conflicted nun in Doubt, a spunky Amelia Earhart in Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian and of course her comic tour de force in Enchanted.
She does a fine job portraying blogger Julie Powell, who became famous while documenting her quest to cook every recipe in Child’s (very thick) cookbook. I found Adams’ scenes with her husband (Chris Messina) very funny and real. For the first two thirds of the film, I was both happy and sad every time the film jumped from one character to the other… both stories were clicking so well. Around that two-thirds point, though, I lost a little interest in Julie and found myself wanting to spend more time with Julia.
But that’s nit-picking. I’d have to strain to come up with things I didn’t like about this film. It’s charming, sweet and funny and goes down about as easy as one of Child’s souffles.
Finally, I will admit that watching Powell blog about 524 recipes felt a bit familiar as I approach my 400th Song of the Day. I think I have the better deal, though… it’s a lot easier to listen to a 4-minute song than to cook a Boeuf Bourguignonne. Fewer calories, too.