Sunday, August 09, 2009

FILM: Julie & Julia

What a delightful, utterly charming film we enjoyed in Julie & Julia. Meryl Streep delivers another amazing tour de force in portraying Julia Child, a daunting task not only because Julia is so well known, but because she is so distinctive in her voice and mannerisms that it's got to be fiendishly difficult to portray her without falling into parody. But Streep, under Nora Ephron's direction, does an amazing job. As my mother said, Streep was more Julia Child than Julia Child. (The cinematographer also gets props for making the 5'6" Streep look as grande as the 6'2" Child.) But while the film was all about Julia, it was not all about Meryl, and she was surrounded by an awesome cast. Stanley Tucci was endearing as her husband Paul Child, and Amy Adams was perfect for Julie, the main character of the other story. As the trailer tells us, Julie & Julia is based on two true stories, and it is the clever interposing of these two stories, five decades and an ocean apart, that elevates the film from just a great biography. The film moves back and forth between Julia, in 1950s Paris, discovering her love of French cooking and her aim to write a cookbook, and Julie, a sympathetic young woman feeling frustrated in her job, cramped in her Queens apartment, and left behind by her more successful friends, who undertakes a project to cook her way through the entire Julia Child cookbook in year, and to blog about it. It was a delight to see her accomplishments and her setbacks as she gained confidence through her ambitious task. There were times when her experiments got a bit out of control, and she got a bit obsessed with her blog, and she's lucky she had such a supportive husband. Hmm, that last sentence could hit a bit close to home… I could relate a bit too closely to how crushed she felt watching her husband douse with salt the boeuf bourguignon she had slaved over. But I could also relate to the joy she found in cooking, and could admire her spirit in going beyond her comfort zone (like tackling the lobster and the formidable deboning of the duck). Meanwhile, getting to know Julia was absolutely inspirational. While I naturally admired her culinary talent, what was revelatory was learning about her indomitable personality, her pluck for always moving forward cheerfully despite adversity, and her wonderful relationship with her loving husband. We've seen a number of romance flicks this summer, but I think Julia and Paul may be the best romance of the summer. I left this film uplifted on so many counts: the inspirational lives, the rapturous cuisine, the visual valentine to Paris in the 1950s. Among other things, I want to run out and buy her cookbook and try out some of those recipes. But I also plan to read Julia's autobiography. The recipe I left most inspired to try was her recipe for joie de vivre.

UPDATE 8/22/09: I've heard from a number of people who liked Julia and hated Julie, such as this review in Gourmet, by someone who knew Julia personally. It's worth reading the comments as well as the review itself. A number of folks there come to Julie Powell's defense. I don't think Julie was trying to be a new Julia. She was trying to find some meaning in a grim life by taking on an extraordinary challenge (both the cooking and the blogging). I came away from the film with a much-renewed admiration for Julia, but I laughed when she talked about making French cooking accessible for the "servantless American", and thought to myself, yeah, the servantless jobless American who has time to spend hours in the kitchen. As someone who can very keenly relate to the challenge of trying to cook good food after coming home from a full day's work, as well as the challenge of trying to write a blog every single day, I think Julie Powell is undeservedly unappreciated by this reviewer.

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