Julie & Julia
Director : Nora Ephron
Screenplay : Nora Ephron (based on the books Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and My Life in France by Julia Child)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2009
Stars : Meryl Streep (Julia Child), Amy Adams (Julie Powell), Stanley Tucci (Paul Child), Chris Messina (Eric Powell), Linda Emond (Simone Beck), Helen Carey (Louisette Bertholle), Mary Lynn Rajskub (Sarah), Jane Lynch (Dorothy McWilliams), Joan Juliet Buck (Madame Brassart), Crystal Noelle (Ernestine), George Bartenieff (Chef Max Bugnard), Vanessa Ferlito (Cassie), Casey Wilson (Regina), Jillian Bach (Annabelle)
In Julia & Julia, the ever-impressive Meryl Streep pulls off another of her unlikely highwire acting feats by embodying the immediately recognizable chef Julia Child, a pre-Food Network PBS mainstay in the 1960s and 1970s who introduced Americans to French cooking and became an unlikely pop-culture touchstone whose kitchen is now part of the National Museum of American History. With her trilling diction and constantly upbeat attitude that makes hay of even the most disastrous situations, Steep nails Child’s behavioral particulars and makes them feel entirely natural (it never feels like a caricature), but the beauty of her performance is the way she transcends those particulars and makes Child seem entirely new, even to those who are familiar with her public persona.
Alas, Streep is only half of Julie & Julia, which is based on two books: Child’s own posthumously published memoir My Life in France and the book from which the film takes its name, which was penned in 2005 by Julie Powell, an aspiring writer and amateur chef who was living with her husband Eric (Chris Messina) above a pizzeria in Queens and was working for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when she decided to give her life some purpose by cooking all 524 recipes in Child’s voluminous Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which, when first published in 1961, was the only English-language French cookbook for the “servantless American”) in a single year. Thus, the film cuts back and forth between the lives of the two eponymous characters, finding various connections between them even if their lives are drastically different.
Child’s story deals primarily with the years she spent living in France in the 1950s with her ambassador husband Paul (the always reliable Stanley Tucci, reunited with his Devil Wears Prada costar), which is where she first fell in love with French cuisine and became determined to master it, even if that meant going against all expectations and completing the rigorous training at Le Cordon Bleu. Child’s ascension to the rank of gourmet on her own terms (which means bucking trends and upstaging the snooty people who can’t imagine that an American woman could master French cuisine) is a kind of beacon for Julie, and she aspires to model her life and her attitude after Child’s. The film posits the six-foot-two Child as the unlikeliest of stars, and yet also the most deserving because she truly accomplished something on her own terms.
As played by Amy Adams, Julie is a plucky rom-com heroine, but writer/director Nora Ephron is determined not to mire her in a stale rom-com. There is definitely conventional romance in the film, but it is rooted in the middle of long-term relationships, which makes it less dazzling, but more fulfilling. The depiction of the love and affection shared by Julia and Paul is particularly touching, not to mention revealing in its often passionate intensity (the visual mismatch of the tall, imposing Julia and the short, bald, and bespectacled Paul could have been played for easy laughs, but instead deepens the meaning of their attraction). The real romance in the film, however, is with food and the painstaking but ultimately rewarding nature of its preparation. Julie & Julia is awash in culinary imagery, and it’s enough to make you want to run out, purchase some Le Creuset cookware, and start deboning a duck (the fact that Mastering the Art of French Cooking recently topped the New York Times bestseller list for the first time since it was published more than 40 years ago is testament to the film’s gastronomic impact). Ephron draws obvious, but still intriguing parallels between various passions--whether they be with cooking or writing or making a name for yourself--and it gives the film a vivacious uplift. Even if the two halves of the story don’t hold equal interest (Julia is inherently a more interesting character than Julie, and Streep’s performance dominates), the film manages to hold together like any good meal, leaving you satisfied without feeling overstuffed.
Copyright ©2009 James Kendrick
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