“Julie & Julia” Film Review (08/09)

Julia Child is many things to many people.  To foodies, she was the witty, determined, competitive – and romantic- grande dame who changed American cooking forever.  


To TV watchers, she is Dan Aykroyd’s now-famous “Saturday Night Live” parody, cooking and dropping things and cutting herself and sipping wine on her PBS-TV Show.  The segment amused Julia. 


Julia Child foolproof and easy omelet technique, which I use often, turned out to be only the start of her motivational meaning to me.  It turns out that like Julia herself, years of work went into its simple elegance.  In all,  ten years of work  testing and typing and comparing notes on recipes for the first “Mastering the Art of Frenchy Cooking,  originally the work of two French women and Julia.


Julia Child’s effervescence seems to have inhabited Meryl Streep, a drink in the fountain of youth for her it appears.  She is a great big energy Julia embracing in a great big bear hug, life in general, her husband (immaculately acted as usual by Stanley Tucci) and her family and her friends and food.  At the premiere and in Tv interviews she makes 60 the new 40. 


The ingenious (and also ridiculously youthful looking) Ms. Ephron as writer and director gifts us with many magical moments.   Paris after WWII is the perfect setting. It’s as though all of Ms. Ephron’s  brittle, Manhattanite self-deprecating attitudes give way to her sheer love of food.


In one,  Julia has a revelation eating her first fish dish in a French restaurant with her husband, Paul.  (This actually was a turning point in her life.) She wants to pass along the same experience to her sister Dort, played by Jane Lynch at her gangly and  brash best.  The two are already almost giddy with the delight of seeing each other in when Dort arrives in Paris.  In a restaurant soon afterward, when Julia feeds her with one French cheese after another they just about collapse in glee.   


Ms. Ephron shared in one interview that some of the most endearing and funny moments were spontaneous and inspired.  When Julia and Paul are dining, Julia musing about what to do with her life, Paul asks what she is most interested in.  Dismissing hats and bridge, Julia says, "eating."  That was in the script.   But Stanley Tucci added, "and you do it so well."  To which Meryl Streep lifted her fork and chuckled, "and I am growing by the minute."  . 


 The delightful Julia part of the film is adapted from his book “My Life in France,” Child’s autobiography written in collaboration with her nephew Alex Prudhomme.   The intersecting story (in dark, down & out Queens) is based on Ms. Powell’s blogging memoir, “Julie & Julia.” Together it is billed as, “the story of two wives adrift in their work life who find a professional purpose through food.”  The appealing Amy Adams plays Julie Powell.


Julia is clearly the heavyweight.   Born into a conservative old Pasadena family, she is  a descendant of William Cullen Bryant and a self-professed “ham.”   In one biography of her, a photo shows  all 6’2’’ of  a young pin-up pretty Julia in tennis shorts,  leggy and lovely.  In those days all of Julia’s energy went into parties and sports.   


It is to her credit that Julia refuses to take on the role of politically conservative housewife.  In fact, she met her husband, cultural attaché Paul Child, while  serving in the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, forerunner of the CIA) during WWII in China.  Patriotic Julia had been turned down by both the WACS and the WAVES because she was too tall.  It was in the OSS that Julia discovered her exceptional organizational skills that were to all be channeled into her cookbooks.


The film shows her enviable good life in sunny Paris (even when it rains), which Julia boldly leapt into funded with her trust money.  It looks so elegant and delicious you want to jump right into the scene with them.


Julie Powell’s claim to fame was the gimmick of cooking every recipe in  “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” to write about in her blog.  Julie claims she learned confidence from Julia but it must have taken place after the film story was over.  There is frustration and there are many tears.   This unlike Julia who, after hearing that her 10-year book project may not be published after all,  gathers herself up and says that at least she learned how to cook in the process.


Both husbands play supporting roles in their wives projects.  However, Julie’s petulant self-obsession eventually drives her husband temporarily out of the house, a thankless role played by Chris Messina.


If you had to compare Julie and Julia to dishes, Julie is definitely the soufflé that has fallen, while Julia is her own favorite boef beurgonon, substantial, classic and timeless.  Julia Child is many things to many people, but this film proves to everyone why her love for food is contagious and how her talent, dedication and spirit made her engaging to all.