Movies: Best Actress Grudgematch - The Blind Side vs. Julie & Julia
Sandra Bullock came home with the Oscar for her role in "The Blind Side" a few months ago, but many thought veteran Meryl Streep deserved a win for portraying Julia Child in "Julie & Julia." How do the two movies (and the two performances) stack up? Through sheer chance, I recently saw both films back-to-back, so let the battle begin:
The Blind Side
You wouldn't think a book about football strategy would make for a watchable character drama. After all, to the non-fan, the Xs and Os of a football playbook are about as interesting as watching paint dry. "The Blind Side," directed by John Lee Hancock, avoids this dilemma by neatly condensing all the gridiron gobbledygook from Michael Lewis's book into the first two minutes.
The remainder is an "inspiring sports film about overcoming racial prejudice," a trope so well-worn that I did a blog post on it. Michael Oher is a black kid from the wrong side of town who beats the odds through integrity and hard work (and football). Sure, sure, it's based on a true story, but the details have been massaged and manipulated for mass consumption. Heck, there's even a precocious football-obsessed kid (think Hayden Panetierre in "Remember the Titans").
As for Bullock, she plays Leigh Anne Tuohy, a well-to-do Ole Miss booster who adopts Michael Oher into her family. As some critics noted, it's not the most challenging material since the role garners easy sympathy. To her credit, though, Bullock brings all her tough-gal charisma to bear, whether it's expressing righteous indignation at the casual racism of her friends or confronting one of Michael's seedier acquaintances using tough talk, an NRA membership, and a Saturday Night Special that "shoots just fine every other day of the week."
Julie & Julia
Nora Ephron has always been a hit-or-miss director. For every romcom hit like "When Harry Met Sally..." or "Sleepless in Seattle," there are critical blunders like "Bewitched" and "Lucky Numbers." Ephron's latest flick, "Julie and Julia," is interesting because it represents both a hit and a miss. The mixed review comes from the attempt to tell two separate stories during its runtime: chef Julia Child struggles to get her book published, and, decades later, blogger Julia Powell attempts to cook (and blog) her way through said book.
Meryl Streep does a good impersonation of the iconic chef, but she doesn't quite capture the warmth, intelligence, and humor that Child exhibited on-screen. Playing a real person is always a tough ask, though, so it's hard to knock Streep's performance. Still, there's a fine line between paying tribute and lapsing into SNL-style parody:
The most problematic part of the movie, though, is Amy Adams' annoying character, the blogger Julia Powell. The insular, narcissistic nature of a blog doesn't make for particularly compelling drama ("Shangrila Towers - The Movie" wouldn't work very well, either). Ephron gamely tries to spice up Powell's life with small-scale obstacles, but Powell's life ends up feeling hollow compared to Child's. Maybe they'll put out a special edition of the movie titled "Julie," with all of the Amy Adams scenes cut out.