Julie & Julia
What It Is
As its title suggests, Julie & Julia is two movies in one. In one, Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) make themselves at home in Paris, 1949. Searching for “something to do,” she tries hat-making and bridge before she settles on her passion: cooking. Frustrated by the rudimentary women’s classes, she enrolls at the famous Cordon Bleu cooking school, where her fellow students are mostly men. Undaunted, she spends hours at home practicing (one afternoon, Paul opens the door to a kitchen full of onion fumes: Julia’s been practicing chopping for hours). She not only graduates, of course, but also goes on to write one of the most famous cookbooks ever, fancy French cooking explained for “servantless” American housewives.
Indeed, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is the point of departure for the second movie here. Julie (Amy Adams) is newly arrived in Queens with her husband Eric (Chris Messina). Bored by her cubicle job (she takes phone calls from 9/11 survivors seeking help from the city), Julie decides to cook her way through Julia’s tome—all 524 recipes—and blog about it on Salon.com. The stories set up obvious parallels: two wives making the best of their new circumstances, ordained by their husbands’ jobs, two women who love to cook and write. But their differences are striking too: Julia is outgoing, outrageously charismatic, and quite brilliant. Julie is not. This means that whenever the film cuts to the 2002 segments, it loses oomph.
Why It’s Fun
Meryl Streep is completely delightful as Julia, in particular the early Julia, before she became a TV star (most famously, she hosted The French Chef, which paved the way for today’s lucrative cooking show industry, from Martha Stewart to The Food Network). The film offers glimpses of her struggles in male-dominated businesses like professional cooking and publishing, as well as her close relationships with women like her sister Dorothy (Jane Lynch, who is also wonderful) and pen pal Avis (Deborah Rush). The film smartly contrasts her maintenance of these connections through writing lively letters with Julie’s lonely nights, blogging into the ether. Julie finds her most profound connection with Julia, admiring her pearls, following her recipes, and thoroughly enjoying her TV performances; she and Eric also watch Dan Aykroyd as Julia Child on Saturday Night Live, as funny now as it was in 1978.
Who’s Going To Love It
This isn’t a movie for kids, exactly, as it’s focused on two adults finding their professional and personal identities. That’s not to say it doesn’t offer charming comedy (kitchen hijinks, mostly) and valuable lessons for younger viewers, concerning friendship, mutual support, and the pursuit of your dreams. And while the focus on women’s lives might seem to limit the movie’s appeal, in fact, it provides terrific models for boys in Paul and Eric, supportive, smart, and enthusiastic eaters.
What To Be Aware Of
A couple of brief scenes show Julie on the phone with 9/11 survivors, whose stories are of course very sad, one or two bringing her to tears. Julie’s frustrations lead to arguments with Eric (one is very upsetting, the consequences stretching over a few anxious scenes) and some occasional language (i.e., the s-word). Julia also goes through some tough times, at one point leading Paul to support her with a display of anger (he uses the f-word). On the other hand, both Julie and Julia enjoy some close moments with their spouses: these are not explicit, but they do show kissing and entwined limbs before the lights go out.
5 out of 10
Film: Julie & Julia
Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Jane Lynch, Dave Annable, Mary Lynn Rajskub
Studio: Columbia Pictures
US Premiere: August 7, 2009 (General release)
UK Premiere: September 11, 2009 (General release)