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Josh Reviews Julie and Julia

October 5th, 2009
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Here’s how not to get me excited about a film: start it off by trailers for Tyler Perry’s I Can Do Bad All by Myself, Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster flick 2012, Rob Marshall’s latest musical Nine, and about five other movies that you could not pay me enough to go see.  Ugh.

Luckily, our feature presentation of Julie and Julia turned out to be rather more entertaining than those dreadful trailers.

Julie and Julia is adapted from “My Life in France,” Julia Child’s posthumously published autobiography, and “Julie & Julia,” New Yorker Julie Powell’s book about her attempt to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s famous cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in 365 days.  The film intercuts the stories of the two women as they each find themselves through cooking.

We first meet Julia Child (Meryl Streep) living in Paris in the 1940’s.  She is married to Paul (Stanley Tucci), an American diplomat, and trying to decide just what she “should dooooo” with her time.  Make hats?  Play bridge?  Her love of French food prompts her to take a cooking class, which she quickly masters.  Gradually she comes upon the idea (working with two fellow chefs) to create a cookbook of French recipes designed for Americans, and the movie charts her multi-year struggle to write, and then find a publisher for, this lengthy tome.

We first meet Julie Powell (Amy Adams) living in Queens in 2002 and working a terrible cubicle job (which seems to involve dealing with insurance claims from the families of 9/11 victims).  Looking for some sort of direction, she seizes upon the idea of cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook and blogging about the results (her Julie/Julia blog project).

Both lead actresses in this film are quite magnificent.  Meryl Streep absolutely nails Julia Child, starting with that distinct voice and including the way she carries herself — her Julia dominates every room that she’s in.  I’m not quite certain how much this “with malice towards none” depiction of Julia squares with the genuine article (and indeed, it’s hard to square this version with the Julia who later in life was dismissive of Julie Powell’s blog, a moment seen in the film only from Julie’s perspective), but Mrs. Streep certainly captures how I have always imagined Julia based on watching her on TV.  As for Amy Adams, she is, as always, a delight, whether conveying Julie’s quiet desperation, early in the film, sitting at a table with her far-more successful college chums, or her great delight all the times we see her getting one of Julie’s recipes just right.

I’ve read a lot of critics (including A.O. Scott of the New York Times) write that Streep outshines Adams in the film, and that as a result they were far less interested in the 2002 Julie segments than they were in the 1940’s Julia parts.  My wife Steph and I felt quite the opposite: we liked the Julia bits, no question, but found ourselves far more engaged with the Amy Adams and the Julie storyline.  (In his review, Mr. Scott writes: “Ms. Adams is a lovely and subtle performer, but she is overmatched by her co-star and handicapped by the material.  Julia Child could whip up a navarin of lamb for lunch, but Meryl Streep eats young actresses for breakfast.  Remember Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada?  … Neither do I.”  Hmm, sorry to disagree, Mr, Scott, but I DO remember Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada!!)

Julie and Julia isn’t what I would describe as a GREAT, must-see film.  To be honest, it’s not really my type of movie at all.  But it is a quite pleasant story, lead by the film’s terrific two lead actresses and a nice group of supporting actors.  It’s nice to see a movie, every now and then, about fairly happy people (in a separate article in the New York Times, they make quite a big deal about the uniqueness of this film’s depiction of two fairly strong, happy marriages) who wind up being successful at what they choose to pursue.

And if you enjoy cooking, that will only add to your enjoyment of this film.  Francis Ford Coppola has commented that he always tried to include a recipe in each of his films (most famously the scene of Clemenza making sauce in The Godfather), but boy oh boy does this film outdo him.  I walked out of the theatre with at least a dozen dishes in my head that I want to try cooking!  Time to track down a copy of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” for myself!

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