The Cookie Monster Cometh.
Before Wolfgang Puck, before Emeril, before Iron Chef – there was Julia Child. But which came first: this American pioneer and monster of home cooking, or Monty Python’s Pepperpots?
Meryl Streep (as Julia Child) ululates her way through this exceptional little quasi-biopic sounding like Graham Chapman in a dress.
JULIE AND JULIA parallels Julia Child’s life with that of a nondescript housewife, Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who challenges herself to cook all the recipes in Child’s renowned cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in 365 days, while blogging about it. Powell’s blog, called The Julie/Julia Project would attain its own measure of fame before Powell would turn it into a memoir, finally titled, Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.
KLAXONS! Chick Flick Alert! Chick Flick Alert! Can’t you tell by the bright, perky music that signifies Bright Perky Heroine?
Yet writer-director Nora Ephron crafts a sassy, saucy film around this esoteric topic. In her chosen genre (perky, lightweight, sappy quasi-comedies), Ephron is unmatched. As a writer, she can really string a screenplay together, as a director, she brings out the best in her actors; and in JULIE AND JULIA she brings this parallel-lives story to the screen with well-orchestrated verve, creatively transitioning between Julie’s and Julia’s lives.
In 1948, we see Julia Child arriving in Versailles, France, with husband Paul (the wonderfully-underplaying Stanley Tucci); cut to Julie Powell in 2002 moving into a slumdog apartment above a pizzeria in Queens, New York with her husband Eric (a similarly underplayed performance from Chris Messina).
While Julia’s husband Paul worked for the American Embassy in Paris, she pottered around trying to find something to keep herself busy, eventually settling on cooking; cut to modern Julie (who works in a customer service cubicle taking 9/11 insurance claims) trying to find something rewarding to do, eventually settling on cooking – from the cookbook which has become an American tradition – Julia’s.
The chemistry of the two couples is touching: in Versailles, Julia would run ideas by Paul on maybe becoming a hat-maker, to which Paul would calmly, supportively reply, “You like hats…” to learning how to play bridge (Paul’s comment, “You like bridge…”); cut to Julie and Eric trying to find something suitable for her to blog about, while foreshadowing hilariously as he lustily devours her cooking, “This is–mm! This is really good!”
When the two couples talk about their eventual book advances, it is a testament to the changing times. Julia rapturously tells Paul “They’re going to offer us two hundred and fifty dollars!” as if it’s a million. And the modern Julie and Eric bandy about “How much do you think they’ll offer – 100,000?” offhandedly.
Even the women’s relationships with their husbands illustrates the changing times: Julia was a virgin when she married Paul and moved with him to Paris because HIS work sent him there; it was tacitly understood that if his work transferred him anywhere in the world, Julia would automatically go with him. Their love life is portrayed as exceedingly healthy even at their “advanced” ages. In Julie’s 2000’s lifestyle, she is a little more on equal footing with her husband, allowed to argue with him emotionally, and he actually leaves her for a short period – but I must stress: even though this screenplay is written by a woman, it avoids that tired Hollywood cliché of making the male halves of the marriages insensitive assholes. Messina and Tucci play sensitive, supportive, strong men that any woman would be proud to be married to.
My sister would love this movie. At every swish of the whisk, we see and hear many interesting trinkets about food preparation “for the servantless American cook.” You can almost smell the delicacies, as in Tucci’s BIG NIGHT (which my sister loved for the food!).
That Tucci-directed vehicle was about his cook character creating a magnificent dinner for an important client; here he is comfortably united with Streep again (after his turn as her liege in THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, 2006), as the husband of the cook. Streep’s authentic replication of Julia Child’s vocalization is unintentionally hilarious, reminding us of Chapman and Cleese loudly ruminating over philosophy while wearing bras. Jane Lynch is Julia’s tall, loud sister, the Cleese to Julia’s Chapman. And Amy Adams is simply delightful (which is the prim way of saying ‘I want to bang her till the neighbors complain’).
It might have been more appropriate to say “eat her till the neighbors complain,” but that would be, uh, tasteless…