Julie & Julia is a movie fitting within the catch-all “etcetera” within my categorisation. A whimsical light-hearted and light-headed drama, amusing but not quite a comedy, touches of nostalgia but well short of a classic, much luscious foodie porn but with a rosy hue to it all, in spite of being “based on” two intertwined true stories.
The first is about how the real life author and early TV cook Julia Child came to write and broadcast to educate and liberate the ordinary “servantless” American housewife from the shackles of meatloaf by presenting tried and tested versions of French classic dishes; the second concerns Julie Powell, who to break out of a humdrum New York existence took on a blog project to cook every one of the recipes in Child’s infamous cookbook (“Mastering the Art of French Cooking“) within a year – 524 recipes in 365 days would be going some for many a chef, quite apart from one working full time in a call centre.
Child and Powell never met, and the movie implies Child was less than fond of Powell’s blog, though the reality may have been slightly different (see here.) Child would appear to have suggested that Powell is not a serious cook, though Powell would appear to have learned much in the process. She starts with a love of writing and baking, but a fear of cooking and eating eggs. She is daunted by aspics, needs the help of her mildly sceptical husband to murder lobsters in cold blood and hot water, but loves cooking with butter. She overcomes many a hurdle and several dinner parties, plus the vast cost of acquiring raw ingredients (so did the voluntary donations flood in?)
The film suggests that for Child, wife of a diplomat, cooking began as a hobby to keep herself occupied, in preference to hat making or other pursuits for a bored well-to-do middle-class woman. Child’s passion grew with the help of a Cordon Bleu cookery class and the long, painstaking development of a book with two French friends. Year pass before the masterpiece evolves down to a single volume and a publishing contract, but from that point onwards Child place cemented in American folklore as the woman who put serious cooking within reach of the modern domestic goddess. Woe betide anyone crossing her, since if anything drove Child it was surely that she wanted to prove wrong anyone doubting her capability or resolve. Maybe not feminist in the sense that we know it but certainly a woman to stand up for her gender, even if traditional in her outlook.
In this she is aided by a fine cast and the ever-depenable talents of Meryl Streep as Child, playing her as an impish and jovial bon viveur, for whom food (sick as when a classic sole meunière sends her into paroxysms of neo-orgasmic delight) and her husband (the excellent Stanley Tucci, who is supposed to be 10 years the elder but is in practice 11 years younger than his screen spouse!) are equal passions.
Amy Adams seems at home in this movie, where in some (Doubt for example) she appeared out of her depth and overawed by the vast talents and egos around her, Streep included – and here she does not cross swords directly with Streep, but does pay homage to Streep’s character, which works at two levels. With screen husband Eric (Chris Messina) Adams has more time and space to develop the character of Ms Powell, and the more relaxed atmosphere of the production may also have worked to her advantage.
Any movie featuring food porn (see here for one list) is always going to be popular, so in a sense Ephron could barely go wrong with the raw ingredients, much as the makers of Chef will also presumably have a field day. Fair to say that the food does look ravishing, even if I have a beef with the unnaturally clean and new Le Creuset pans (see here.)
In fact Nora Ephron‘s movie is a light and frothy concoction, a cheese soufflé that rarely looks likely to collapse, but for light and shade does include the occasional emotional downturn in both stories, and in so doing makes deliberate parallels between the two ladies. though Ephron’s script keeps up a steady stream of laughs and charm in equal measure to keep the pot boiling!