Would you watch a movie of this? And by this I mean my unstructured twice weekly ramblings. And feel free to say “no” to that, because that is the right answer. When Julie & Julia came to our screens part of its marketing strategy appeared to be to make a big point of how it was the first movie to be based on a blog. But is that really a good thing? Are we actually keen to see movies based on blogs?
Obviously I’m not going to say that there’s no value in blogging, but it’s a different style of writing to the single central narrative required for movie plotting. Movies have struggled to make a successful story from even the traditional diary format, the likes of Samuel Pepys or Anne Frank, so blogs with their short, bitty snippets are inevitably going to struggle. Julie Powell’s blogging proved a hit with people because of her engaging style of writing, not because there was a great deal of character development or narrative tension. As a result, the film adaptation lacks much direction when it comes to Powell’s story.
Amy Adams is an excellent actress who has proved quite capable of lifting the standard of anything from a talky, stage-to-screen piece about priests and child abuse to a bloated summer blockbuster about alien superheroes, but Julie Powell proves a kind of thankless role for her. The other half of the film, the one about Julia Child writing her cookbook, is more engaging and Meryl Streep gives a superb imitation of the famous cook, but with half the film taken up by the blogging plot Child’s narrative is kind of skipped over (by focusing on writing the book, there’s no time for the story of her developing relationship with husband Paul, the always engaging Stanley Tucci, and their time working for the OSS spy agency during World War 2. One project that Child worked on involved developing shark repellant! Who wouldn’t want to see that on screen?). Like Sliding Doors or The Holiday, Julie & Julia manages to tell two slightly unengaging stories rather than one decent one.
Beyond the narrative issues of diary movies, Julie & Julia suffers from the ubiquitous trouble of any film about writers, namely that the act of writing doesn’t make for particularly compelling viewing. I can honestly say that I don’t read my blog out loud as I write it, but on screen Julie Powell does this all the time.
This is not to say that Julie & Julia is a film without merit, it’s got charm, a strong cast and some good sequences, the editing between the two time frames is well thought out, but I can’t help but think that, for all that Julie Powell’s blogging is the hook that the movie was sold on, it’s that element that lets it down. For all that there’s been movies of everything from theme park rides to boardgames in the few years since Julie & Julia was released, there hasn’t been another major motion picture based on a blog. I wonder why that is.