I thought this movie was a fitting one to be featured on this blog. It won't be the last as I rediscover some of my favourite movies in which food plays a supporting or starring role.
Julia Child is a hero of mine and a movie about her life was sure to be an anticipated movie event for me. The idea for the screenplay of Julie and Julia was taken from food blogger, Julie Powell, and her year long trek through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. After a year of boeuf bourguignon, creme caramel, murdered lobsters and a deboned duck, she ended up writing a book about her experience, which then became the idea for this movie.
Julia was perhaps the single greatest influence on cooking in 20th century America (and Canada). Yup, those are big words, but it is entirely true. She was the first celebrity chef, a rare public persona to eschew the TV dinners and prepared foods of that time. But while many people know her name and know what she looked like, many don't really know "who" she was. This movie will make a whole new generation of cook's interested enough to pillage their mother's or grandmother's' cookbook collection, or send it into another printing. It will make new cook's, and it will encourage people to cook French food they've only eaten in restaurants.
Meryl Streep nails, or clevers, the spirit of Julia Child. Sure she has the voice down, the smile, and the scenes from "The French Chef" could have been original footage. But its what I like to call her "essence" that she portrayed which is uncanny. The flick of her head, the movement of her 6ft 2 figure, the wink of an eye. These small things are what make the movie worth watching and a fine tribute. The first scene of Julia's story takes place in Normandy. Paul Child and Julia have just landed in France and it is here that Julia has her first revelation about French food in a small rustic restaurant in picturesque Rouen. A simple fillet of local fish cooked in butter served in a copper pan. Streeps' portrayal of Julia's enthusiasm for this perhaps religious experience is exactly as I pictured and I could feel how amazing that kind of culinary experience would be. Julie's narration echoes that feeling in present day New York with her flitting around in the kitchen noting, "anything you've ever tasted that was good was because of the butter". So true...
The movie is a series of present day events following Julie Powell, finding meaning in her life through cooking, with flashbacks to Julia and Paul Child and their postwar lives in France. Stanley Tucci plays ever supportive, Paul Child, and its the chemistry between these two actors which sufficiently honours their real life love story. During a scene from a Valentines Party Tucci raises his glass to his high spirited gal, "you are the butter to my bread, the breath to my life". The love story in this movie carries throughout and adds a real human element to a larger than life character. In fact the love story is really a driving force in this movie because it accompanies the joys of cooking so perfectly.
Amy Adams does a decent job of portraying frustrated and stagnant, office worker, Julie Powell, and her challenge of over 500 recipes in 1 year. Julia Child becomes her God and Mastering the Art of French Cooking her bible. "She started because she didn’t know what else to do", she explains of Julia's arrival into the cooking world in her mid thirties in Paris, to perfectly supportive husband and ever enthusiastic dining partner, Eric, played by the almost invisible, Chris Messina. Her cooking scenes are full of the usual happy cooking music, burnt dishes, shopping and ohhs and ahhs from friends. After a triumphant beurre blanc she declares, "it's been whipped into submission". A perfect line if there ever was one to describe the velvety tangy sauce of mostly butter.
However "cute" Amy Adams usually is, and honestly I'm quite a fan of hers, its a tall order to stand up to Julia Child and Meryl Streep. And while no fault to her performance I just found myself tapping feet most of the time waiting for the flashback to Julia in Paris to come on the screen. However, the narration offers a genuine feeling of the highs and lows of cooking and what its really all about and echoes the real Julie Powells words. A small role by the incredible Jane Lynch who plays Julia's near twin sister breathes air into the middle of the movie showing the same enthusiasm for life that Julia had. And while Julia gets all the credit these days for MtAoFC, there were 2 other authors. Linda Edmond role as Simone Beck, Julia's co author, is stunning.
The genuine emotions about the joys of cooking this movie captures is carried through to the very last scene of Julia in her Cambridge kitchen, and the celebratory rooftop dinner scene when Julie serves the deboned, stuffed duck. By the end of the movie we do get a sense of what made Julia Child great, and why her book, 50 years later, is still a classic. Her incredible enthusiasm for life above all things is shown in the fist 10 minutes as she shops at the markets for produce and shares oysters with a burly fishmonger. Julia was not a food snob, she was an enthusiast, and she wanted everyone to have the capability to eat good food every day. Screenwriter and director Nora Ephron gets "it" and while I do believe the Julie story detracted from the the really amazing parts of this movie, I think mostly its because I went into this movie as a Julia Child fan an that's what I wanted to see. While not perfect, this was a fun movie and one that touched my heart. I hope you'll go see it, and are "whipped into submission" by Julia, Julie and good French food.
My introduction to French cooking not so many years ago, was through the movie's main character: the book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I did not grow up as a child of Julia's disciples, although my Mom did make a mean French Onion Soup, which was certainly my strongest association of French food I could relate to. Thanks, Mom!
And the truth is I haven't been feeling "it" lately. "It" being my cooking mojo I suppose you could say. I've been uninspired and unmotivated. It happens to the best of us from time to time and while there's often no real reason for the rut, there needs to be a certain event to get someone out of it and I think this movie was it for me. The enduring theme of this story was about the passion of preparing a meal for people you love, for taking simple raw ingredients and creating everyday masterpieces, small or grand. These transformations are what make me feel alive on a given day. I have always related to Julia Child. She didn't come to food until she was about my age. She threw herself into it and ended up finding her life's' purpose, and how lucky we are because of it. "I spend all day thinking about food, and I dream of it all night" (Julia says to friends in Julie and Julia). I feel the same way.