Julie, Julia, Bing and Superman

As I explained in this week's Of Many Things, our culture section will feature "web only" material, which may escape notice of those who contumaciously cleave only to the print edition of the magazine.  This week two offerings: a review of the new movie "Julie & Julia," a dual-biopic about the famous chef and her less famous acolyte.  I've just returned seeing this joyful new movie, and concur with what Emily Brennan, assistant director of the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University, has to say in her review here in her take on the movie, especially her praise of the astonishing Meryl Streep, who beautifully embodies the joie de vivre of the woman the French called Madame Sheeld.

...Child's maiden voyages to Parisian markets, joyfully selecting ripe tomatoes and freshly baked bread, and the scenes in which she feverishly chops onions and fearlessly slices open a lobster to outdo the men her class, are exciting to watch—not least of all because she’s played by the astonishing Meryl Streep.  Streep’s bravura is not overdone. It captures all the unfussy joie-de-vivre and graciousness that endeared Child to America. The actress, a good deal shorter than Child's six-foot-two stature, manages not only to embody Child's lumbering gestures but also convey by turns the self-consciousness and self-assertion they invoke. Plus, her replication of Child's sing-song New England accent is uncanny.

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So the seemingly impossible-to-capture Julia Child has been captured on screen--in case we didn't have enough of her on PBS already.  Just as difficult a quarry to capture on screen, at least realistically, is the life of a priest. Hollywood has had varying degrees of success in portraying men in collars. Guerric DeBona, OSB, an associate professor of homiletics at St. Meinrad's, sent us this snappy article that looks at priests in movies from Bing Crosby through Philip Seymour Hoffman. Here he is on the differences between Father O'Malley ("Going My Way" and "The Bells of St. Mary's") and Father Flynn ("Doubt"). This is good stuff: 

[T] difference between the two clerics is striking: O’Malley has been cast as a priest-savior, Flynn as a potential menace to the church and society. O’Malley has come to the inner city not only to save a school, but also his erstwhile rival, Sister Mary Benedict, (Ingrid Bergman) gently informing her that the good woman has “a touch of tuberculosis.” Sister may be off to Arizona to recover, but no matter: anytime there’s a snag, “just dial ‘O’ for O’Malley.” By contrast, Sr. Aloysius (Meryl Streep) is convinced that Flynn has come to radicalize her territory with a progressive theology and worse, to prey upon young children—particularly a needy, sexually ambivalent African-American boy. In effect, Sister Aloysius, a kind of feminist sage for the early sixties, subverts any efforts Flynn might make to play the redeemer, doggedly steeling herself from his pleading siren song. “Where’s your compassion?” he asks her. “No where you can get at it,” she tells him. In the end, “Doubt” deprives the audience of precisely the kind of comfort provided by priests like O’Malley: the need to know that there was someone who would take care of things and make the world a more secure place. The potent “doubt” we are left with at the end of the film is a reminder that priests are not messiahs but flawed (and sometimes tragic) human beings who nonetheless seek to bring faith, hope and love to their congregation.  Read the rest here.

And if that's not enough film from America's culture section, turn to our print edition for Richard Leonard SJ's provocative piece on how Christians can use superhero movies to help frame a discussion for children about the greatest hero of all, Jesus.  Or you can read it online here, you web-savvy person you, here at More than Super.

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8 years 9 months ago
I appreciate reading Guerric DeBona's genealogy of priests in the movies, especially in this ''Year of the Priest'' when one encounters commentary on priests that isn't always so, shall we say, incisive. I especially appreciate his reflections linked with Emily Brennan's comments on Streep's portrayal of Julia. Too bad Sister Aloysius didn't have a little more of Julia's joie de vivre!  Is it too much to hope that we can face up to our flaws and enjoy a good meal together too?

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