Julie & Julia
If you love food, as I do — I even get excited about the meal trolley on planes, and count the number of aisles before it is going to get to me — and if you love Meryl Streep, as anyone in their right mind should, then you are probably already thinking you are going to totally love Julie & Julia, and while you are right, you are only half right. Look, it’s a nice movie and it’s a gentle movie and it’s an old-fashioned movie, and it gives the recipe for beurre blanc, which is never a bad thing, but it suffers just as The Devil Wears Prada suffered: when Ms Streep isn’t on screen, it dies a death and drags horribly.
Written and directed by Nora Ephron as a comedy-drama, it’s based on two sets of memoirs: that of American food writer Julia Child (Streep), who introduced American housewives to French cuisine in the early Sixties, and that of Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a New Yorker who, in 2002, started up a blog documenting her efforts to cook her way through all 524 recipes in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days. So it’s two films which, to put it plainly, is one film too many.
Meryl is, of course, a wonder; absolutely lovely as Ms Child who, aside from anything else, was just so physically extraordinary: 6ft 2ins with a Brian Blessed voice, and yet Streep’s portrayal is so tender, affectionate and thoughtful that she never makes her look ridiculous. We’re introduced to her as she arrives in post-war Paris with her adored diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci). She is a passionate, intelligent woman, but bored out of her mind. She tries hat-making. She tries bridge. And then, bingo!, she enrols on a cordon bleu course. There is a sight gag to do with onions that is absolutely priceless. But then we have to cut to Ms Powell, who is just such a drip.
Ms Powell, who aspires to be a writer — don’t we all, my dear; don’t we all — works for the government helping relocate those displaced by 9/11 and yet cries when she burns her boeuf bourguignon. Now, I’m not saying I wouldn’t cry if I worked with 9/11 survivors and burned a boeuf bourguignon because I probably would — dinner; ruined! — but I wouldn’t expect you to like me for it, and she shouldn’t expect us to like her for it. Also, her husband is wet. Also, her sight gag involves live lobsters going into the pot, which just isn’t going to cut it for anyone who has seen Annie Hall. Her half of the film plays like a below-par rom-com, so here’s the question: is the good half good enough? Probably, yes, but then I would watch Meryl rearranging a closet. It’s just the way I am.
And now on to Fish Tank, which is a different kettle of fish — poissonnière? — altogether, and is the second feature from the director Andrea Arnold, whose first film, Red Road, was both marvellous and quite extraordinary. However, I’m not going to go on about it here because if you have seen it you’ve seen it and if you haven’t what do you want me to do? Drop the DVD round? Come on, you don’t get many extraordinary and marvellous films for a pound, so make an effort here.
Is this as good? Possibly not. Good enough? Worth seeing? Totally. This stars Katie Jarvis — never having previously acted, she was cast after having been spotted at a train station — as Mia, a 15-year-old who, within the first few opening minutes of the film has broken another girl’s nose and called everybody the C-word. There is nothing gentle or old-fashioned about this film. Mia lives in an Essex tower block with her boozed-up, single-parent mum (Kierston Wareing) who, one day, brings home a new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender). Almost instantly, the sexual tension between him and Mia is such that you know it is going to explode somehow, and it does. I’ve made this sound like a grim wrist-slitter of a film, which I suppose it is, but it’s saved by the integrity of the performances — you can sense how profoundly everyone is seething to be loved — and the astounding visual imagery: Mia stroking the flank of a horse; Mia trying to break the horse free by smashing its chain with rock. It’s not wholly convincing — I was always perplexed by Connor’s motivation, for example — and its view of tower-block dwellers may well be patronising, but it is utterly absorbing and has such impact that you seriously have to gather yourself afterwards. Needless to say, at no point does it give out the recipe for beurre blanc.