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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Obligatory Julie & Julia Post

As usual, I'm a little late to the party (I was taught as a child that being on time to a party is actually unconscionably rude) but I still feel the need to chime in on Julie & Julia, the movie. Full disclosure: I have not read Julie Powell's book, one of the sources for the movie. I did, however, read My Life in France, Julia Child's wonderful memoir of her years in Paris and Marseille as she learned to cook and began her masterwork, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

The first thing that must be said is that Julia Child was an amazing woman with a huge, warm personality that draws you in when you're watching just a thirty-minute, black-and-white PBS cooking show. A full color movie of her life couldn't help but be even more appealing--especially with Meryl Streep turning in a near-flawless performance. Every single moment Meryl/Julia was onscreen, I was either smiling so hard my cheeks ached, or tearing up. I can't remember the last time I was so affected by a movie. Stanley Tucci was also fantastic as Paul Child, bringing a palpable affection and gut-deep realism to the role of Mr. Julia. I loved everything about them. I wanted their segments of the movie to go on and on.

Not totally the case with the Julie Powell segments. Backing up--before seeing the movie, I read some reviews and talked to some friends who all seemed to agree that the Julie Powell character, a food blogger played by Amy Adams, was whiny, annoying, and useless to the point of dragging the movie down. In fact, I'd heard this about her book, which was why I never read it. So I was primed to dislike her portion of the movie. And while I wasn't as affected by her story as I was by Julia's, I felt that Julie Powell and her quest to cook her way through MtAoFC in a year was integral to the structure of the movie. The comparisons between the two women made Julia's sincerity and verve shine even brighter; the quality of the relationship between Julia and Paul was even more clearly an equal, loving partnership when compared with Julie's sometimes shabby treatment of her sweet but forgettable husband.

But even more than that, the movie needed Julie because she alone had a transformative experience. Julia was Julia, from the first beat of the movie to the last. She was herself, in the glorious, solid flesh--she started out wonderful, so it didn't matter that she didn't really learn or change in any way over the course of the two hours. Julie, though, was a different person by the end of the movie. Her story dramatized perfectly the power of Julia Child's life and work to inspire people and to change the way they view the world. No, I didn't always love Julie, and their were moments when I wanted to shout, as most of the reviewers did, "Get a life!" But that's exactly the point--that's what she was trying to do. And eventually, she succeeded, which gave the movie its structure and satisfying ending point. Without Julie and her eventual ah-ha moment, there's no movie.

But without Julia Child, there would've been very little joy--and I wouldn't have come home and immediately scrapped our plans to grill burgers in favor of cooking steak with sauce Bercy (white wine, butter, and shallots--yum!!), baked tomatoes, and a green salad with a ravigote dressing (vinaigrette with chopped herbs, capers, and onions,) all from Mastering the Art. Julia strikes again!


Thanks for this post. I actually saw the movie before reading the book. I could not resist. I totally enjoyed it. Being a big old whiner myself I could relate to the Julie character even though she got on my nerves. LOL.

Meryl as Julia was perfect. I could have watched her forever.

Great review, Louisa! I totally agree about Julie. At times, I found her so whiny and self-absorbed I wanted to scream. It also didn't help that I'd gone to her actual blog and found her a bit unlikable for my taste. But Amy Adams played her superbly, and at that crucial moment, that black moment in the film when Julie discovers that Julia sort of dissed her, I thought that she rose above it and discovered something beautiful. It didn't matter what Julia thought of her, it only mattered what she thought of Julia and how Julia's life and cooking had served as an inspiration to her own life.

I agree with you - Julie's story gives Julia's even more heft. That said, I do think a biopic of Julia Child could have been a stand-alone movie; just not a Nora Ephron movie, most likely.

That said, I still can't stand Julie Powell, mainly because of her antipathy for the actual act of cooking. But that doesn't make the movie bad.

Glad you finally watched it!

I totally agree with your post. I loved the Julia/Paul segments because it did show such a wonderful love affair. I wasn't so bothered about Julie's character because I kind of understood her desire to 'finish something'.

I just left the theater thinking Meryl Streep was brilliant and I wanted to cook, darnit!

I couldn't get a babysitter and so saw the movie with my 8 year old daughter. She adored the Julia Child character and she's becoming a little cook, all because of the joy that we saw shine in Meryl Streep's characterization.

I'm almost done with My Life in France and would suggest anyone who loved the movie read it. It shows how true they stayed to Julia and Paul but more than that, the absolute love affair that they had with France and food and the world.

Oh, and we made Boeuf Bourguignon in honor of the movie and hated it. Probably not a dish for non-wine lovers.

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