' Cinema Romantico: Julie & Julia

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Julie & Julia

I can't say I know much about Julia Child. She had a distinct voice. She liked to cook, right? I apologize, Julia Child fans, honest to God, I do, it's just that when the best cooking you can do is limited to tossing something in a crockpot and letting it gestate for 7-9 hours on LOW you do not typically find yourself reading up too much on Julia Child.

I knew even less about Julie Powell, a woman who in 2002 determined to blog her way through Julia Child's 524 recipes in 365 days.

I had not planned on seeing this film, I won't lie, even with saintly Meryl Streep as Julia Child getting serious Oscar buzz (shocker!!!). Thankfully, though, my mind glazed off a few Mendocino IPA's, a couple friends wanted to watch it and so I watched along with them, and you know what? I dug it. I did. You know what Julie & Julia were? Two women who found their passion and went with it come hell or high water. That's a quality for which I've got mad respect, loyal readers.

Based on the real life Julie Powell's book of the same name half of the film details Julia Child and her husband Paul Cushing (Stanley Tucci, getting great mileage out of an underwritten role which I will address momentarily), working for the U.S. government, arrive in postwar Paris. Her first meal there will essentially be a life discovery. In fact, reading up on things afterwards I learned Ms. Child described this intial Parisian meal as "an opening up of the soul and spirit for me." Go, Julia, go!

She enrolls in classes at the famed Cordon Bleu Cooking School where the curmudgeonly instructor (is there any other kind?) tells her she will never be able to master the art of French cooking which, of course, will eventually lead to her authoring a book entitled Mastering the Art of French Cooking (in your face!) that will lead to an intrepid battle to get it published.

The other half of the film details Julie Powell (Amy Adams) in 2002 where she lives in an unfashionable apartment in Queens and toils terrible days away at a government call center. Desperate for direction, her husband (Chris Messina), over dinner one evening, suggests she combine her passion for cooking and for writing into creating a blog where she will record her culinary adventures as she attempts to navigate her way through Julia Child's hefty cookbook.

I notice today that many reviewers were not as taken with the present day tale as with the past. Stephanie Zacharek of Salon termed Adams as being "exhaustively perky". Ouch. Have I had one too many gulps of the Amy Adams Kool Aid? Perhaps, but I didn't find her perky. I found her passionate, like the mentor she never meets. Of course, passionate people are always suspect to others. ("Come on, Julie, it's just a cookbook.")

I meandered a bit through the real life Julie Powell's blog and I suspect she and I could be allies. Here's a quote of hers: "I have never looked to religion for comfort - belief is just not in my genes. But reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking - childishly simple and dauntingly complex, incantatory and comforting - I thought this was what prayer must feel like. Sustenance bound up with anticipation and want. Reading MtAoFC was like reading pornographic Bible verses." Hell yeah! Go, Julie, go!

Sure, "Julie & Julia" isn't perfect. Writer/Director Nora Ephron has never been the greatest screenplay artist (and after reading this year about the shenanigans she and Carl Bernstein pulled on "All The President's Men" in William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade" I dislike her even more) and it shows in this film. Certain questions and points are raised and then forgotten. The male characters are woefully underdeveloped, though the more I contemplate it I think that might be rightful payback. I mean, female characters are often woefully underdeveloped in Hollywood (a fact we discussed yesterday). As they say, what goes around comes around.

In any event, who cares? The film introduced me to two people I may not have ever realized I should have any interest in. I'm grateful for it. However, I must say that I sense Julie & Julia would want me to be utterly forthright in my opinions and so I will. Meryl Streep is great in this but Kelly Macdonald still deserves the Best Acress Oscar more.

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