Thursday, December 31, 2009

Movie Log: Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia is a movie that takes two stories in which not all that much happens -- Julia Child learns to cook French food at Le Cordon Bleu, and then works for a decade on a cookbook; Julie Powell spends a year cooking all the recipes from that book and writing about it on a blog -- and intertwines them to make them both feel more important and interesting than they would have separately. It is true, as nearly all of the reviews have said, that Meryl Streep's Julia is more fun than Amy Adams's Julie, but that's mostly the nature of their stories -- Julia might have been "servantless," but she was pretty well coddled by life, and Julie wasn't.

Director Nora Ephron also keeps Julia's world sunnier than Julie's, and Julia's setbacks -- an unpleasant Frenchwoman who runs Cordon Bleu, her husband's interrogation by humorless Republican commie-hunters in the mid-'50s -- are smaller and less momentous than Julie's. And let's face it: Julia is an American in Paris right after the war, riding high on the almighty dollar, living in splendid, huge, apartments, married to a loving man whose embassy work is clearly not too taxing, and studying something she deeply loves. Julie is working for a government bureaucracy, talking to 9/11 victims, and trying to recreate Julia's recipes in the small kitchen of a small apartment in dumpy Long Island City, with a husband who works more than Julia's and isn't portrayed as the saint Paul Child is.

Julia Child is also a larger-than-life figure in a way that Julie Powell just can't be -- and Streep does capture Child's oddly booming voice and twitchy mannerisms, inhabiting the part and expressing the deep joy Child always seemed to have for food and everything else that came her way. We viewers don't have a mental picture of Julie Powell in the same way, so Amy Adams has to work harder to build her character -- though she does very well herself. (And Adams is such a cutie -- perhaps even more now, when she's playing an ordinary person, and not using one of her high, twittery voices -- that we instinctively feel for her.)

Julie & Julia is a sunny movie about the pleasures of doing something right, about making food that people will appreciate, about damning the torpedoes and using real butter. Luckily, I saw it after having a big meal (Mexican, not French, though the effect is similar), so it didn't make me ravenously hungry. But I could easily see how it could: this would be an excellent pre-dinner movie.


Jena said...

It's Julia Child, not Childs. Otherwise, great review!

Andrew Wheeler said...

Jena: Thanks for pointing out that very embarrassing (and consistent) mistake of mine; I've just corrected it in the post. (I think I got every instance.)

Once again, I am an object lesson in the dangers of writing a post straight through and just shoving it up without allowing enough time to check it over.

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