Sunday, August 9, 2009
Savoring delicious 'Julie & Julia' means no lean cuisine
By Steve Crum
Channeling Julia Child had to be a challenge for Meryl Streep, and I do not mean just getting that distinctive voice down. Streep not only nails the voice, but the body language as well. Most importantly, and amazingly, she embodies the great chef’s spirit. In the vastly enjoyable Julie & Julia, Streep is Julia Child. And Amy Adams’ portrayal of Julie Powell, upon whose book the center of the film is based, is pretty superb as well. Prediction: Both will be nominated as Best Actress, with Streep winning...again.
I could not help but channel Julia Child myself, having watched her TV cooking shows over the years, and seen her spoofed by comedians like Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live--which is actually shown in Julie & Julia. Surely anyone who ever heard Child has one of her lines (i.e. “Save the liver!”) to imitate in that deep, quavering, New England voice. I still have Child’s unforgettable narration of Tubby the Tuba on a Boston Pops album. Think Child, and punch, “Tubbbbby.”
Director Nora Ephron’s brilliantly realized screenplay blends two best selling books: Child’s My Life in France, written with Paul Prud’homme, and Powell’s Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes. Julia & Julia exceeds Efron’s best directorial work, You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle included. She is, as Child might exude, on a Croissant roll.
The film opens in 1949 Paris. The Childs, Paul (an Oscar caliber turn by Stanley Tucci) and Julia, are moving into their new abode, a comfortable and attractive downtown apartment which Julia immediately praises as being “Versailles.” Cut to 2002, and Julie Powell’s small Queens, N.Y. apartment. Small is key here, since she and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) immediately have issues about space in regard to kitchen area.
Soon into flipping from Julia to Julie and back, it is apparent both women face self crises. Both have willingly moved to support their respective husband’s careers. Now that the guys are content and living near their new jobs, the gals feel empty, and pursue their own career paths. For Julia, it means enrolling in cooking school; Julie starts a new receptionist job downtown, and to blog on her computer. Julia has a great line early on when her husband Paul is trying to help her decide on something to do to occupy her time. “What do you really like to do?” he asks. Julia’s answer: “Eat!” Cooking seems to be her destiny.
It is also Julie’s. Utilizing her favorite cookbook, Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julie decides to make it the basis of her new blog. In one blog entry per day, for an entire year, she will give an account of creating each and every recipe in Child’s book. That means she will have to cook, bake or grill at least one of the 524 dishes every day. Then she, her husband, and friends will get to eat each meal. That also means Julie has to meet her self imposed deadline of chronicling each day. Generally, she and her husband do OK with the new regimen, but it eventually wears on their relationship. It impacts Julie’s full time job as a phone receptionist as well. There are only so many hours in one day.
Meanwhile, several decades earlier, Julia progresses in her French cooking classes at the celebrated Le Cordon Bleu school in Paris. Despite a language challenge and being the only female student enrolled, her positive drive and intelligence elevate her to the top of the class. Her love for food is shared by her husband, who also loves and, frankly, lusts for Julia throughout the film. And vice versa. Somehow Julia’s catchphrase, “Bon, appetit!” fits here.
The two ladies’ side careers take major turns. Julia Child will eventually write the humongous Mastering the Art... cookbook (734 pages), co-authored by Louisett Bertholle (Helen Carey), and become world famous for it. The frustrating years of publishers rejecting the book are depicted as well. (There is a choice sequence of a meeting with the author of what was then and remains the number one cookbook in the U.S., The Joy of Cooking.) Once Child’s book is published, and heralded as the “seminal culinary work” of all time, Child will find world fame as star of her own TV show(s) as The French Chef. Her personality, as well as her recipes, sells.
In a somewhat parallel vein, Julie’s blogs have garnered enough faithful readers that The New York Times features her. This leads to a best selling book, Nora Ephron, and this film.
“All I can think about every day is food,” says Child. “Shopping for food is as interesting as buying a new dress.” Certainly Julie & Julia is about food and the delights of eating. But it is also about love between spouses, and between two authors. Although Julia never met Julie, Julie loved Julia, in a respectful, culinary way.
Ephron’s love for them both is obvious.
On an A to F Grade Scale: A