They should’ve just gone with Meryl all the way. Or at least for more that 50% of the movie. Meryl rules her scenes, but then we have all those boring whinny Amy Adams parts, which take the movie to an undesired recent reality.
Meryl plays Julia Child, the famous French-inspired American chef, TV personality in her later life, American icon, a strong-minded independent woman, with a very distinctive voice and a remarkable height. Julia’s storyline (the woman in 1950s France discovering her passion for cooking) represents half the movie and the inspiration for modern Julie’s adventure of cooking all of Julia’s recipes. So it’s not a biopic, but a fine perspective on the life of an impressive woman.
It’s a comedy role because Meryl takes it there. Meryl IS Julia Child and takes the character (and the scenes) wherever she feels like it. With visible experience beyond words, Meryl doesn’t miss a detail: with pure joy of acting and being, she creates a fun character, a loving figure, always faithful to the happy nature of this woman.
It’s not a screwball comedy or laugh-out-loud, it’s all about feeling good, relaxed and having a nice time. And Meryl takes care of that, by giving us optimistic and love for life without looking stupid and never forgetting the dignity and the dramatic side of the character; and knowing how to create a subtly iconic figure, a role model that transcends into Julie’s (Amy Adams) storyline of devouring admiration.
But feel-good and joy is never enough for Meryl! She serves us as much of a dramatic punch without changing the genre of the movie: a tearful eye here and there, a breakdown scene somewhat hidden from the camera, the love and gratefulness while looking at her husband. Plus telling us the story without the words: the child that she could not have, that was her always-present personal tragedy.
Meryl makes it look too easy and that’s her biggest flaw. We take her for granted, and don’t realize what a generous actress she is, always thinking of the character, the story and most of all her scene partners. This movie needed to be all/more about Julia Child; it would’ve given an even bigger boost to the performance. And it’s not the big dramatic tour-de-force Meryl has gotten us used to. But even so: a great achievement and easily best element of the film! I was gonna go for 3 stars when I started writing; but this is what Meryl does to me and I gradually convinced myself of the lack of flaws. It’s an almost from me.
*the screen-time never includes photos, but does include voice-overs. And I didn’t expect so much screen-time for her, considering just half the movie is hers. The explanation: the camera’s always on Meryl in her scenes + the movie gets close to 120 minutes, unusually long for the genre. She actually gets more time on screen than in Doubt. :)