BluRay/DVD Reviews

JULIE & JULIA

By • Dec 28th, 2009 •

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It’s worrisome to contemplate the possible effect of Nora Ephron’s new film, JULIE & JULIA, the true story of a young Manhattan woman determined to make all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s ground-breaking first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Julie Powell, winsomely played by Amy Adams, embarks on the project as a subject for an internet blog, attempting to compete with her professionally successful woman friends. Intercut with her dogged attempts is the much warmer story of Julia Child herself, an affectionate impersonation with Julia’s idiosyncratic hooting tones, portrayed to perfection by Meryl Streep, starting in 1949 as Julia comes to love her life in Paris and develops her culinary expertise.

This is an amalgam of two complementary books, Julia Child’s posthumously published memoir with Alex Prud’homme, My Life In France and Julie Powell’s Julie & Julia, her story of her cuisine arts and concomitant blog. Ms. Ephron, director and screenwriter, should be the ideal choice for this, known not only as a purveyor of woman-oriented romantic comedies, but a foodie, as illustrated by her novel/movie Heartburn. Disappointingly, this fails to rise into the pantheon of Great Movies About Food–no BABETTE’S FEAST here–but succeeds well as a lightweight chick flick. It’s easy enough to empathize with Julie Powell’s successes and failures, to wince along with her as she confront live lobsters. Although Chris Messina isn’t given much do to as Julie’s patient husband, Stanley Tucci, possibly thinking of his own Great Movie About Food, BIG NIGHT, is more fun as Paul Child.

Nevertheless, the overall feeling is that–perhaps in Ms. Ephron’s heart as well–1950s Paris is more enjoyable than turn-of-the-millennium New York. Certainly, the Parisian scenes are produced and photographed more lovingly–and despite Julia Child’s moments of doubt, she is living a much better, richer, happier life than Julie with her drab work life and home environment. (Although Julie holds a very worthwhile job, dealing with citizen problems in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, she regards it as an imposition as well as an insult to her intelligence.) In her present-day world of uncertainty, she notes that cooking provides a refuge and relief, and as her blog starts to garner a following, it becomes central to her life.

Julie sees parallels between herself and Julia Child, but these are fairly minor, and the implication that Julie becomes a better person by channeling Child via her cookbook is vastly overstated. Whereas Julia Child was thrust into the spotlight due to her expertise, Julie elbows her way into the spotlight only to vie with her so-called friends, choosing to blog only because a friend is already trying that route. But despite the let-downs in the script, avoiding the darker implications about contemporary American life, it’s an enjoyable example of an ordinary person struggling with a real-world endeavor, and luckily the charm of the two leads is enough to see it through.

Ideally, the movie would inspire women across America to discard their microwave-able food products, realize anew that flavor may trump convenience, and regard butter with new respect. Unfortunately, one is left with the nagging feeling that most of the audience will instead come away with the idea that a random blog is a quick route to a movie deal and narcissism is its own reward.

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