Virginia Woolf once said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well,” an opinion that seems to be validated by Julie & Julia, the latest movie from renowned foodie Nora Ephron.
The movie depicts the years Julia Child spent in Paris with her husband Paul, learning how to cook French food, finding her niche in a city where she visibly didn’t fit in, and writing a tome of a cookbook with her new friends. Years later, that book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, would inspire Julie Powell. Julie is approaching thirty and feels like she is drifting through life accomplishing nothing. Like Julia in Paris, Julie wants to find something that she is good at and, also like Julia, she loves to eat and to cook. She embarks on a year-long quest to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “[r]isking her marriage, her job, and her cats’ well-being.” The two women’s stories are presented woven around each other as Julie studies Julia’s life looking for fulfillment in her own. The movie’s tagline says it all: “Passion. Ambition. Butter. Do You Have What It Takes?”
Maybe my vision was skewed because I too have a small kitchen with cabinets that my plates don’t fit in and I also have a busy schedule that makes food sometimes an after thought. Whatever the reason, Julie & Julia really struck a chord with me. The movie is warm, charming, endearing, and inspiring, without feeling any larger-than-life than Julia Child herself.
Julie & Julia has the light-heartedness of a romantic comedy, but the title characters are already happily married. Instead of finding romantic love, the women are instead engaged in challenges of sustaining romance, of finding fulfillment, and of bringing out the best in themselves. It’s refreshing to watch a comedy that has its share of silly moments but also is in touch with life. Important relationships—those we have with food, our friends, our family, and ourselves—are at the heart of this story. While watching Julia find her way in Paris or Julie agonize over boning a duck or killing lobsters is entertaining, nothing is as satisfying as knowing that it all boils down to rising to challenges and learning to laugh at oneself.
Technically speaking, I thought this movie was really good. The interlacing of the two stories together was very well timed. The audience is kept with one character just long enough and then switched before we start to wonder what’s going on in the other’s life. Cues and connections are tied in so the transitions feel seamless in addition to being well-choreographed.
Streep’s portrayal of Julia Child is effervescent and fun without crossing into caricature. As Paul Child, Stanley Tucci plays the straight-man and the romantic well. It’s touching to watch Paul love Julia. On the flip side, as Julie Powell, Amy Adams is a mess. But she’s supposed to be. It’s hard to forget how cute Amy Adams is when you hear her perky little voice, but as Julie you’re never sure whether you want to shake her or be her best friend. This portrayal suits the character. Chris Messina is good as her husband, but his performance is the weakest of the foursome.
The music by Alexandre Desplat sets a mood for the film that mingles jolly and melancholy with the sort-of clichéd accordion music we’re trained to expect of movies set in Paris. It’s delightful. And the choice of The Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer” for the lobster-steaming scene was cute.
The original Julie/Julia Project blog is still available online. Just google it. You’ll recognize it easily, because it looks just as it does in the movie, which I think is a small, but powerful detail keeping the movie in touch with the true story behind it.
You know how they tell you not to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry? Well, dear reader, learn from my mistake and don’t go to the grocery store after seeing Julie & Julia either. Trust me.
Julie & Julia was written and directed by Nora Ephron, based upon the book by Julie Powell and My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme. Running 123 minutes, it is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and sexuality.
Rating : ****/5
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