Julie & Julia
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is an insufferably adorable character who, feeling nothing more complex than predictable existentialist Big City angst upon her 30th birthday, decides to go through Julia Child’s groundbreaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, one recipe at a time, until she has prepared everything in it, including weird dishes like lobster and aspic. While I like Amy Adams as an actress, and I did like director Nora Ephron’s warm yuppie-porn photography and halcyon New York nostalgia (things she happens to be good at, even when she makes her clunkers), I, like most audiences, questioned the need to include Julie Powell in this movie at all. True, the film is based on Powell’s book, and the real-life Julie Powell did actually manage to publish a popular ‘blog about her year-long quest to master the art of French cooking, but Ephron decided to bifurcate her film, and try to draw a parallel between Powell and Child herself, seen living in France, while authoring her book.
The Julia Child sequences are wonderful. In the role, Meryl Streep manages to bring not only her glitteringly convincing talents to the screen, but also gives life and depth to a cultural icon that is more often seen a s a caricature than a human being; indeed “Julie & Julia” had the courage to show the most popular satire of Julia Child in the form of Dan Aykroyd’s Saturday Night Live sketch. Streep has been nominated for her 16th Academy Award for this film, and, once again, she deserves it.
Child lived in France with her husband Paul (a great Stanley Tucci), who had been called there as part of his government job. The relationship between Julia and Paul is one of intelligence, warmth, mutual understanding, and a surprising amount of dirty talk and sensuality. You really got the feeling that these two were good friends in addition to being a married couple. Julia feels she’s in a rut, as she has nothing to do in France while her husband works. She tries her hands at various hobbies, until she realizes that French cooking is the best she’s tasted. She immediately enrolls in the Cordon Blue school, and we see her lengthy struggle to graduate (no woman had ever graduated before her).
She then teams up with two other local chefs (Joan Juliette Buck and Crystal Noelle), and they spend the better part of 15 years writing, re-writing, corresponding, editing, and pitching a cookbook that is all about French cuisine, but written in an easy-to-understand style for American would-be chefs. Who knew getting a cookbook published was such hard work? Even if you’re not interested in cooking or food, this is a fascinating story. We even get a few intimate moments of sadness in her life.
Julie Powell, on the other hand, doesn’t really have a fascinating story. She’s in a rut… kind of. Well, she hates her job, and he best friends are all workaholics who spend too much time on their telephones in public. That’s become new movie shorthand: if you’re on your mobile phone at the dinner table, you are instantly an insensitive workaholic. Her husband Eric (Chris Messina) is kind of saintly, kind of bland, and points out – rightly – that Julie is kind of a whiny narcissist. It was revealed later that Julie Powell was having an affair. Why not tell that story? That’s far more interesting and exciting that merely grinding one’s way through a cookbook. Why not tell the story of her boyfriend(s), and how he/they played into all this? But that’s as may be.
I can highly recommend half of “Julie & Julia.” If you’re a foodie, then by all means, this is one of the biggest food porn movies to come out since “Tampopo,” and you’ll adore it. Streep is a delight, and Ephron hits all the right notes. I just wish we didn’t get the obvious modern-day parallel.