Julie & Julia

Posted on December 8, 2009 at 8:00 am

“Julie & Julia” is — I can’t help it — a scrumptiously satisfying film about writer/director Nora Ephron’s two favorite subjects: food and marriage.It is based on two true stories. Julia Child revolutionized American notions about food with her cookbook and PBS series that brought haute cuisine to the “servantless” American housewife in the early 1960’s. Cookbooks and magazines in those days had recipes that included canned peas and crushed potato chips. But Child (Meryl Streep), newly settled in Paris with her diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) fell in love with the fresh, subtle, deeply sensual quality of French cooking and decided to study at the Cordon Bleu. She was an unlikely epicure and an even more unlikely spokeswoman, over six feet tall and with a rather horsey quality, a voice with a trill that made her sound like a cross between Eleanor Roosevelt and Miss Francis of the Ding-Dong School. But she was passionate, knowledgeable, accessible, and completely fearless. She boned a duck with knives that could slice through granite and scooped up food from the floor and put it back on the plate, crisply assuring her audience that it was all right because no one could see them in the kitchen. Americans fell in love with boeuf bourguignon, chocolate mousse, and with Julia, too. Half a century later, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) was in need of some of Julia’s resolute forthrightness. While her “cobb salad lunch” friends made million-dollar deals on their cell phones, Julie had a half-finished novel and a job answering the phone in a cubicle, listening to the problems of people seeking help with their 9/11-related injuries and losses. She and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) lived in a tiny, dingy apartment over a pizza place, with a handkerchief-sized kitchen. But Julie wanted to do something big and important. She wanted to finish something. And so she decided to work her way through Julia’s famous cookbook, to take on every recipe including deboning a duck, to do it all in one year, and to do it in public, on the then-novel outlet of a blog. Both Julie and Julia were drawn to the literally hands-on nature of cooking, the sense of purpose and mastery, and the generosity of it. Ephron’s screenplay, based on memoirs by each of its main characters, touches on the parallels without overdoing it. And one of the sweetest is the rare portrayal of tender, devoted, and, yes, very passionate married love, even more palpably luscious than the abbondanza array of diet-busting delicacies.It is the Julia story that is the heart of this film and it is Meryl Streep who is at the heart of this story. A little bit of movie magic makes the 5’6″ actress tower over her co-stars and even the furniture. But it is sheer, once-to-a-planet acting that makes Child so touching and inspiring. No one is more adorable than Amy Adams, and she wrinkles her little nose and throws her little tantrums as a twinkly romantic movie heroine must. But Streep as Child is revelatory, real, and irresistible. In one scene, when she responds to some good news from her sister (wonderfully played by Jane Lynch), the mixture of emotions that cross Streep’s face in a moment tell us of decades of pain. In another, as the Childs and their friends celebrate Valentine’s Day, we see an expression of love and trust so deep and enduring and joyous and sexy that it makes most expressions of movie romance feel like whipped cream made with skim milk and fake sugar.This is a movie about food and love and courage and dreams and lots and lots of butter, and doing something — cooking or acting — brilliantly and with gusto. And it is delicious, nourishing, and good to the last drop. Parents should know that this film has several swear words (s-words, one f-word) and a brief crude reference to a part of the body. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations. Topics for discussion: How did cooking help to make the lives of the characters more meaningful? What do we learn from Julia’s reaction to her sister’s news? What did Julie learn from Julia’s reaction to her blog? How important to both women was the support of their husbands? And try making some of the recipes.If you like this try: “Heartburn,” another Ephron story about food and marriage, and “Big Night,” another movie about food starring Tucci. And read the books, Mastering The Art of French Cooking and Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.

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Based on a book Based on a true story Biography Comedy Date movie Drama Romance

9 Replies to “Julie & Julia”

  1. Now I’m hungry! For a trip to a fabulous Paris bistro with a lover! But I think for now I will have to settle for going to see this film. Sounds like it will be a wonderful substitute until I can get to France in November…. the only problem will be staying on my diet until then! Thanks for your review, I’m sure I will enjoy the film very much.

  2. I saw the film today, after seeing Meryl Streep and Nora Ephron’s interview with Charlie Rose on PBS TV last night. If anyone would like a bit more background about the film, and some details about some bits of the film that were improvisations between Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci, I recommend that interview.
    I was undone by this film. The “onion-slicing” scene had the entire audience laughing, and I laughed so hard that I cried. I needed more tissues (indeed, I am tearing up again now, and feel like I need a really good cry over it) for the scene you discuss above, in which Julia gets some good news about her sister. Immediately after seeing the film, I wondered why the “Julie” portion of the story was included at all, but in retrospect, the “Julie” story does draw some touching parallels, as you point out in your review, about how spouses can be not just begrudgingly supportive of each other, but passionately, sexily, deeply, lovingly encouraging. And the “Julie” story also lets us know up front just how well Julia Child’s early efforts at the Cordon Bleu are going to pay off (in case anyone seeing the movie doesn’t happen to know who Julia Child is.) It adds an extra dimension, as we watch Julia pursue her passion for French cooking in the early days, to know that she did achieve her goal of bringing this type of cooking within the reach of every American family. I also enjoyed the ending point of the film very much– with both Julie and Julia at the moment that could be the defining moment of their lives. We know where Julia went from that point. We can hope for Julie to go on to more great things, as well.
    Meryl Streep— you said it all, Nell. I found her performance so affecting that I can’t be objective about it. It tapped into some very deep sorrows in my personal life and I think I may be having an unusual reaction because of that. I don’t have enough superlatives for it and couldn’t put it better than you have, anyhow. I can just repeat:

  3. After seeing the film the day it was released, I stood up and clapped and cheered wildly. (Half the women in the theatre just looked at me like I was nuts and the other half wished they’d had what it took to join me.) Between the women in my Czech family and the influence of Julia on me in the 70’s, I have always loved the art of food. One scene in the film certainly stands out and is something with which I (and many others who love to prepare food might agree) identify… the knobs of butter melting in the pan on the stove. The narration was perfect…
    This film was a celebration of life, culture, people, food and the wonder of an incredible love relationship between two people. Meryl Streep did a remarkable job of capturing what I have always thought Julia to be. And though I was skeptical about the Julie half of the story, Amy Adams was enduring and brought it all home to those of us who worry about getting yolk in our eggwhites (and balance our pursuit of passion with a relationship). ANYONE would like this film… that is anyone who loves life and a wonderful story.

  4. Thank you for the wonderful comments! Your description of the film as “a celebration of life, culture, people, food, and the wonder of an incredible love relationship between two people” is exactly right. I’m so glad you loved the movie.

  5. I thought this was a good movie. I thought Meryl Streep was fantastic. Stanley Tucci also. I was less convinced by Amy Adam’s scenes. They were certainly watchable and mildly entertaining but lacked the magic of Meryl Streep’s scenes.
    I know that some people will have found the pacing slow. But I kind of liked the fact that there wasn’t a lot of dramatic tension and climaxes. It felt like life does- realistic is the word I’m searching for I guess….
    My only complaint, on the Julia Child side, was that the movie ended to soon. I would have liked to have learned more about her life in Cambridge, Mass and her cooking show on PBS, etc.

  6. Thanks, grok87! A very perceptive comment. “Magic” is just the right word. And I would love to see a sequel about what happened to Julia after the book came out.

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