Aug 12, 2009

Julie & Julia/Funny People

Considering this is always a wasteland of a season, there are far more interesting movies this Summer than ever. Why that is, I don't know, except that perhaps things are so bad that studios and distributors are trying anything to make their films stand out, which is good for moviegoers.
You can see two small, well crafted movies like Adam and Cold Souls, and you can also see the two big, slightly disappointing movies of the title. (You can also see the morally rotten garbage also known as Summer fare, but I don't go to those. I think they actually make you stupider).
So, the superhyped and long awaited Julie & Julia:
I'm sorry to say this, because I so wanted to like it, but the preview is better than the movie. I like Nora Ephron. I like her more than I like her movies. I am trying to figure out why, even though I enjoyed the movie as it was playing, I felt so unsatisfied with it after. The very game and funny Meryl Streep clearly has a ball playing Julia Child and getting to flex her voice muscles. The way she says FISH, in that Sesame Street Swedish Chef crazy voice, (which was obviously patented on Julia Child's eccentric speech) is delightful. I loved the love affair with food (there are shots of a perfect tarte tatin, beef bourgignon, and other delicious things that provide more interesting drama for us food lovers than what actually happens to people). I loved every scene in which Stanley Tucci, playing husband Paul Child, and La Streep are together. These two pros, as weird a couple as they are, have a totally believable intimacy and their scenes are sweet and tender and fun. Now, as other people have pointed out, the movie kind of loses charm any time we are not in Julia Child's world. I usually love Amy Adams. She is a wonderful actress, but she seems lost in this part. Is she a goody two shoes pining to make it as a writer or a calculating ambitious woman? I'd prefer if it was the second, because then she would have had something to learn from Julia Child. But she is conceived as a wide eyed innocent, and that is so boring. I did not believe for a second she lives in New York, much less in Queens, and works for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. She is too wholesome for all that. I must confess I have very little sympathy for successful bloggers who turn their blogs into books and movies. But that is just me, choking with envy, dear readers.
But even without me casting personal aspersions, Julie Powell's story of success, although it's absolutely true, gets the trite, overbearing treatment. It feels like a total cliché; whereas the story of Julia Child is exceptional.

Word on Judd Apatow's Funny People was so mixed, that I had to see the movie. I like Mr. Apatow. I like that his comedic world is complex, that it makes no apologies for being so male-centered, and that there is always an undercurrent of genuine emotion cursing through the funny, filthy, gross out stuff. He also taps the dark vein of where humor springs, inadequacy, insecurity, loneliness, pain. He is not at all afraid of the Jewishness of it, bless him for that. The man invented the bromantic comedy. Credit is due. As a writer and producer, he has spawned an entire cottage industry of male-oriented sophomoric movies, some of which I love, like Talladega Nights and Anchorman and Step-Brothers, and Don't Mess with the Zohan, required viewing for anybody who has ever been to Israel. He is a comic genius for our times. For our times, these are the comic geniuses we get: Apatow, Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry David. Oy gevalt.
Funny People is a very ambitious movie. It's a serious comedy. It is best when it depicts the desperation of young comedians trying to make it in a ruthless environment, doing anything to get a laugh. As we know, funny and happy are not one and the same, and funny always comes from pain. Adam Sandler is excellent as George Simmons, a very famous (Jewish) comic, who got his start like everyone else, killing or getting murdered at stand up, but became rich and famous, sold out by doing moronic comedies, and is now a lonely, nasty piece of work. He learns he is dying and he gets "a second chance" in life. And this is where the movie falters. There is some very funny writing throughout, some biting commentary on whether one can remain a mensch in show business, but the love story involving Sandler and Leslie Mann (the director's wife and muse), feels very strained. The last third of the movie is a total mess of ridiculous plot points and contrived reversals. And it ends, as in most Apatow films, with the bliss of male bonding.
Yet I liked it better than Julie & Julia. It has much more bite.

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