Saturday, August 22, 2009

And the Universe Implodes

In the long history of books made into movies, it is almost a given that the book is going to be better than the movie. The movie just can't capture the nuance and depth of a novel -- it might capture the look and feel of things, but there is always something missing in the movie adaptation -- the need to keep the movie under 2 hours, the inability to handle multiple storylines in that short a time, the need to simplify a complex plotlines for a movie audience...all of those things mean that while the movies may be interesting and enjoyable, the book is better.

But the rule is not always accurate. I've now read a book and seen the movie...and the movie is far superior to the book. As evidence, I present Julie&Julia based on the book/blog project by Julie Powell - a 30-year-old New Yorker who cooked her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year, writing all along about the experience. The book is her memoir about the project, not just a book version of the blog. The movie is this book combined with Julia Child's own My Life in France, with the two stories interwoven.

The movie has gotten mixed reviews - most find Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child to be spot-on and perfect, and criticize Amy Adams' performance as "trying too hard".

I have to agree with the reviews on the "Julia" side of the movie -- the scenes with Streep and Stanley Tucci (as Paul Child) are absolutely charming. They are delightful together, and the story of how Julia Child came to cooking and then to writing the cookbook are lively and fun and inspired.

I don't agree with the criticism of Amy Adams, though - her "trying too hard" and "too whiny" performance is spot on to the Julie in the book. In fact, I found the character on screen to be far more likeable and less snotty than the 'voice' of Julie in her book. The complaints are that the character comes across as very unsympathetic, and to those who thinks so, I say, "read the book". She is.

The book is quite funny in places, and even insightful, but when I put it down, I disliked Julie very much. She has a grasping, desperate ambition to be recognized for the great and important person she thinks she is, and an almost paralyzing jealousy of her friends (all of whom are doing memorable and exciting things). She comes across as shallow, vain, desperate for attention, self-entitled, and whiny--the 30-something who just knows, deep in her heart, that she is important and special and dammit, no one else is recognizing that! Perhaps in real life she is a normal sort of person, but in print, the book is one long whine about how awful her life is and then about how happy she is once people start to pay attention to her for this "project". I read the blog when she did in in 2002, and was quite charmed by it then. The resulting book is not as engaging at all. At least not to me.

The movie cuts out most of the scenes where she interacts with her friends and family (in fact, the one scene in the movie with her friends is painfully awful for her - you really do sympathize and wonder why on earth she remains friends with this trio of bitchy do-nothings). The book is riddled with comments about her friends' love lives, jobs, exciting opportunities, and how they just don't understand her and how desperately she wants to do something notable. The desperation just doesn't come out in the movie as much - the movie paints her as a sort of hapless, helpless, unhappy woman trying to find her own inner meaning, trying to find something that resonates with her life. There's a little too much weeping, but on screen, the meltdowns are actually rather amusing.

We thought the movie charming (in that heavy-blow-to-the-head style of Nora Ephron, of course, not a lot of subtlety there), thought Meryl Streep did an eerily good impression of Julia Child, and in general liked the juxtaposition of Julia's story and Julie's story.

I (since the Adorable Husband did not read the book) thought the book was a bunch of self-indulgent dribble trying to sound insightful and meaningful, wrapped around some very amusing anecdotes about actually cooking from Julia Child's book. Meh. Perhaps I would have liked it better had it actually had both stories in it - maybe reading alternating chapters of Julie&Julia and My Life in France would have been a better way to approach it.

Score 1 for the movie adaptation being better than the book.

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