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The Blurbs

August 14, 2009

Julie Is 'Overmatched' by Julia

In this week's edition of The Blurbs—the feature in which we take a close look at those critic blurbs that are a fixture of ads for movies—see breakdowns of blurbs for 'Julie & Julia,' 'Adam,' 'Cold Souls,' and more.

David Goldenberg

The critic blurb is a staple of arts advertising. Yet if you look behind some blurbs, you'll find quotes out of context, quote whores, and other questionable ad practices. Blurb Racket exposes the truth behind critics blurbs in movie ads from the New York Times. Movie titles link to, which compiles movie reviews in a far-more honest way than do movie ads. See the inaugural Blurb Racket column for background and useful links, and find out what critics think of the racket.

"Few people will be talking about the sourness of the Julie scenes, except in passing. They'll repress them."—San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle on Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia (Columbia)
Metacritic Score: 65

A.O. Scott, New York Times: "Bon appétit! 'Julie & Julia' proceeds with such ease and charm that its audacity is easy to miss."
Not quoted: "Trimming some fat from Ms. [Julie] Powell's rambling book (and draining some of the juice as well) … If only Mr. [Stanley] Tucci and Ms. [Meryl] Streep were in every movie, I thought to myself at one point, as, in a state of rapture, I watched them sit still on a couch looking off into space. The problem is that when they aren't on screen in this movie, you can't help missing them. Ms. [Amy] Adams is a lovely and subtle performer, but she is overmatched by her co-star and handicapped by the material. Julia Child could whip up a navarin of lamb for lunch, but Meryl Streep eats young actresses for breakfast. … The deck is further stacked against Ms. Adams by the discrepancy between Ms. Powell's achievement and Ms. Child's, and by a corresponding imbalance in Ms. [Nora] Ephron's interest in the characters. The conceit of parallel lives is undone by the movie's condescending treatment of Julie and also by its ardent embrace of the past at the expense of the present. … The unevenness of 'Julie and Julia' is nobody's fault, really. It arises from an inherent flaw in the film's premise."

Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: "Delightful! An abundant, irresistible film!"
Actual line: "Few movies are as delightful as 'Julie & Julia.' … At its best, this is an abundant, irresistible film."
Not quoted: "The movie intersperses scenes of Julia Child in midcentury Paris with scenes of Julie Powell in modern-day Queens, New York, and after an hour or so, the viewer may feel a tug of reluctance at leaving the Paris scenes and a sense of relief each time one of the New York segments is over. The reason hasn't to do with the atmosphere or location but with the character and personalities of the women. Child is a burst of joy, while Powell, as played by Amy Adams, is a churlish, ambition-driven opportunist. That wouldn't be a problem, except that the movie just assumes that Powell is a sympathetic figure. Then it goes about justifying the juxtaposition of the two women by finding shallow parallels between them. In fact, their differences in moral stature and achievement are staggering … In truth, by the time the movie is over, few people will be talking about the sourness of the Julie scenes, except in passing. They'll repress them."

Michael Sragow, Baltimore Sun: "Amy Adams doesn't hit a single wrong key! She sparkles!"
Actual line: "Adams doesn't hit a single wrong key as Powell fumbles her way toward blogosphere success. Operating in a near vacuum, Adams pulls off something extraordinarily difficult: She creates a modest character working to the edge of her limitations. She sparkles when she lets you see how Julie sweats."
Not quoted: "To some viewers, these two characters will mark the difference between true grit (Child) and faux grit (Powell). The fault doesn't lie in these characters—or in these stars, either—but in the contrast between the vibrant, fully fleshed-out France of the flashbacks and the hollow mingling of melancholy and careerism in Ephron's portrait of New York a year or two after Sept. 11. Actually, each story contains its share of failed symmetries. Considering how much weight the movie puts on Child's achievement, its comedy would have been more resonant had Ephron more fully dramatized Child's aesthetic and scientific approach to recipes. Considering how much importance Ephron puts on marriage, she doesn't come up with a character for Powell's husband (Chris Messina) that is remotely adequate. When he erupts into fury, we're more shocked than Julie."

Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Yum! Meryl Streep is at her brilliant, beguiling best!"
Not quoted: "Since Julie and Julia never made caontact (don't ask), the film strains to find parallels. No offense to the talented Adams, but Julie's story is no match for Julia's. … How can Julie, playing chef in a cramped Queens kitchen while husband Eric (Chris Messina) simmers in frustration, compare to Julia and Paul in France sampling a sole meunière (butter has never looked this sexy) that turned her into a pioneer of gastronomy?"

Adam (Fox Searchlight)
Metacritic Score: 55

Jeannette Catsoulis, New York Times: "The humor is delicate, and the performances sweet and sure."
Not quoted: "Considering the story's twee details—Adam's passion is the heavens, Beth's is teaching tiny children—and a tonally disruptive subplot concerning Beth's parents (Peter Gallagher and Amy Irving), 'Adam' is more involving than you might expect."

Justin Chang, Variety: "Emotionally potent performances in a tender New York love story."
Actual line: "Emotionally potent performances, gently offbeat humor and writer-helmer Max Mayer's assured touch guide this tender New York love story to a quietly hopeful conclusion, prevailing over some overly familiar situations and slight narrative missteps."
Not quoted: "… the opening passages contain some rather too obvious signifiers of Adam's emotional stuntedness: a shot of him staring unfeelingly into his dad's open grave; a freezer stacked with nothing but macaroni-and-cheese TV dinners; a routine that sends him back and forth between his tidy flat and his job as an electronic engineer."

Frank J. Avella, "Hugh Dancy is the first real Oscar contender of 2009."
Actual line: "Hugh Dancy, along with Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker, is the first real Best Actor Oscar contender of 2009."
Not quoted: "… always absorbing but occasionally uneven … The more heavy-handed scenes are, the more it feels tv-movie-esque. Mayer's direction and script can be clumsy … Peter Gallagher is saddled with playing her slick trickster cheat of a husband in a subplot that should have been engrossing but seems cliché and out of place in the film. I found myself falling in love with the first half of Adam (as Beth does with Adam) and then wishing it didn't have to take the obvious routes in the second half—though the ending is atypical."
For implying Avella said Dancy is the first real Oscar contender, rather than one of two Best Actor contenders, this ad wins Gelf's Bogus Blurb of the Week Award.

Cold Souls
Cold Souls (Samuel Goldwyn)
Metacritic Score: 69

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "A delicious fable… flat-out funny."
Holden loved the film when he saw it at a film festival. His colleague Manohla Dargis has more mixed feelings about this "attractive, smart-enough, finally un-brave movie."

Thirst (Focus Features)
Metacritic Score: 71

Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly: "Daring & bloody funny!"
Actual line: "… a gaudy, daring, operatic, and bloody funny provocation of a melodrama …"
What's wrong with gaudy and operatic?

Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times: "Profound & intensely erotic!"
Actual line: "… a rumination on morality and mortality that is not at all deadly, but funny and profound and at times intensely erotic."
Not quoted: "Where forbidden desire grows, deceit is sure to follow, and it quickly does. This is where Park slips into the surreal in ways that don't quite work for the story …"

District 9
District 9 (TriStar)
Metacritic Score: 81

Shawn Edwards, Fox-TV: "*****"
This isn't the first time a well-reviewed movie saw fit to blurb this dubious source.

Cloud 9
Cloud 9 (Peter Rommel)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Maria Garcia, Film Journal: "Not since David Lean's Brief Encounter…has a drama so thoughtfully explored a woman's point of view on her extramarital affair."
Actual line: "Not since David Lean's Brief Encounter (1945), in which the characters are considerably younger, has a drama so thoughtfully explored a woman's point of view on her extramarital affair."
Not quoted: "The graphic sex is a bore …"

Bliss (First Run Features)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Stephen Holden, New York Times: "Critics' pick… breathtaking! Beautifully acted, consistently gripping, visually intoxicating…a landmark of Turkish cinema."
Not quoted: "The screenplay, written by Mr. [Abdullah] Oguz with Kubilay Tuncer and Elif Ayan, turns the novel, in which the rapist's identity is disclosed early on, into a thriller in which the truth is revealed in an explosive Hollywood ending that rather too neatly ties up loose ends left dangling in the book."

My Führer
My Führer (Arte)
Metacritic Score: N/A

Joseph Jon Lanthier. Slant Magazine: "Preposterous, subversive, successful… miraculously straddles the matzo-thin border between daring and tasteless."
Actual line: "In a forgivingly preposterous turn of events, Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) enlists the help of a Jewish dramatist, Grünbaum (Ulrich Mühe), who is to rebuild the Führer's confidence and oratory skills in five days (Goebbels goes so far as to yank both him and his family out of labor camps). The cookie-cutter "makeover" premise leads to a number of predictable sketches (the moment when Hitler is reduced to a groveling animal under the guise of dramaturgical role-playing is oddly satisfying, as if we're glad to have gotten the obvious joke out of the way), but the careful rapport developed between the genocidal architect and the Jewish prisoner miraculously manages to straddle the matzo-thin border between daring and tasteless. … The humor sardonically ribs the Teutonic titan while coming from a seemingly human place of, if not understanding or sympathy, a subtle, subversive form of respect. … Are we subjecting Hitler's stereotype to the very mistreatment that contributed to the man's infamous persona? This line of inquiry is what makes the first two acts of My Führer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler so mindfuckingly successful."
A classic cut-and-paste job.

David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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Article by David Goldenberg

David Goldenberg is the co-founder and editor of Gelf, and the host of Geeking Out, Gelf's monthly science speaking series.

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