Saturday, March 6, 2010

Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia (U.S., 2009) written and directed by Nora Ephron, 123 minutes

Nominated for one Oscar: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

But the first meal I ever cooked for Paul was a bit more ambitious: brains simmered in red wine! ... But the results, alas, were messy to look at and not very good to eat. In fact, the dinner was a disaster. Paul laughed it off, and we scrounged up something else that night.
My Life in France, Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme

I wanted to end these Oscar nominated reviews on a joyous note (this will be the last review before the Oscars on Sunday). I had another review in mind but it was bleak and mean-spirited and it's too beautiful a day to do that.

This film combines many of my favourite things: cooking, Paris, New York, intriguing women and .. blogging! Although I read one or two reviews which felt that the combination of the two women's stories was jarring and did not fit well, I disagree.

Ephron has written a script combining cooking diva Julia Child's autobiography My Life in France with Julie Powell's blog-turned-memoir where she described how she decided to cook all of the 524 recipes in Child's seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Meryl Streep is enchanting as the young(ish) Julia who spends her early years as a bride in 1950s Paris with her husband Paul Child. She feels lost, useless in the kitchen and a bit overwhelmed by the French and their veneration of food and cooking.

I loved the way Streep forced us to see Child in a new way: sexy, fun, quirky and innovative. It was a pleasure to see an amicable, loving marriage on screen with Paul Child (the very sexy Stanley Tucci) who displays genuine lust and admiration for his voluptuous, charming wife.

Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a dispirited and aspiring writer with a difficult job (she works for the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. answering calls from 911 victims), imagines that her New York girlfriends all have more fabulous lives than she does and she may be right. She lives in a modest apartment and struggles to determine what she is good at. She decides to start a blog, mining her obsession with Julia Child and Child's masterpiece on French cooking. The recipes sometimes confound or puzzle her; at times, they are daunting or she is tired and frustrated and she is not particularly successful in the execution.

It is obvious that we are meant to see Julie's travails as a smaller version of Julia's as both try to learn to cook and attempt to get published. They both endure discouraging environments and the ever present fear of failure as well as experiencing the aid of loving, supportive husbands. Julia faces the snobbery of the French who assume an American can never learn the technique required for French cooking and the sexism of the male-dominated chef profession. Julie has low self esteem, little money and a sense of life rapidly passing her by.

And while Streep, as Julia, always appears charmingly ditzy and appealing, Adams gives off a different vibe here: snappish, irritated and a bit rude. It takes the sparkle off Adams' image too for me. I still remember her as the ditzy but lovable princess in Enchanted and the timorous, sweet-tempered nun in Doubt. Here she is frumpy and anxious and sometimes not pleasant to watch and, based on Powell's latest book, Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession, she may be channeling the real Julie Powell.

Ephron's writing is funny and energetic and both characters have enough bite in them that they enliven fairly dull non-visual activities like: writing, cooking, reading, pouting. Yet it works here.

In real life, Julie does achieve success even though she does not garner the admiration of the real Julia Child who is displeased with her book. Both women have found their way and even though their journey to success is separated by almost half a century, their travails are not so very different.


Cheryl said...

I LOVE Nora Ephron! She's my kinda filmmaker!

Totally agree about Julia Powell.

Loved this movie, made me want to go to Paris and eat butter!


Michelle said...

Thanks Cheryl! Did you read about Powell's new book - yikes - where she admits to having an affair w/ s&m tinges?? I thought the husband was supposed to be some sort of saint. Why she needed to put it in a book I don't know. But thanks for the inspiring words. I have a few book reviews that I am backed up on. It's been a fun challenge trying to do one a day.

Cheryl said...

Yes, and I read an interview of Powell as well. I think I prefer Julia Child!