Saturday, January 2, 2010

Julie & Julia--movie review

This movie reflects screenwriter Nora Ephron's attempt to bring together two memoirs: Julia Child's My Life in France and Julie Powell's Julie & Julia. Julia Child, of course, needs no introduction. She revolutionized American cooking and pretty much launched the TV cooking show. Julie Powell, as a young writer living in a tiny apartment in NYC, decided to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days. What she called "the Julie/Julia Project" became a popular blog that turned into a book and then into this film.

Ephron (When Harry Met Sally ... and Sleepless in Seattle) does a masterful job of revealing two parallel lives separated in time and space but joined by a love of cooking. I'll be surprised if Meryl Streep doesn't win an Oscar for her remarkable portrayal of Julia Child. She is the main focus of the film, and her performance is the main reason to see it. She actually transforms herself into Julia Child. She has the voice and mannerisms down pat. Wow. How can she play such disparate roles as Miranda Priestley (in The Devil Wears Prada), Donna Sheridan (in Mama Mia!) and Julia Child? Here's the most amazing thing. Meryl Streep is only 5' 6" and Julia Child was 6' 2". Yet Meryl Streep comes across looking "tall." How did they do that? One trick is to surround her with even shorter actors. At 5' 8", Stanley Tucci is a good choice for her husband, Paul (and he gives yet another solid performance). The other trick is to choose the right camera angles--and really high heels for Streep. In some shots, they are obviously using a stand in. Actress Jane Lynch, who plays Julia's sister Dorothy, is 6' tall, yet somehow when she stands next to Streep, they appear to be about the same height. (Jane Lynch was relatively unknown when she made this film, but now she has a cult following as Sue Sylvester on Glee.)

Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, and although she is certainly a fine actress, she is overshadowed by Streep. This isn't entirely Adams' fault. Julie Powell's story just isn't as compelling as Julia Child's. Child wasn't much of a cook at all, but she knew that she loved to eat (who doesn't?). She started taking cooking lessons at the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and then her larger-than-life personality took over. With Streep and Child, you get two legendary figures.

This is a great film, and I would recommend it as a good "date night," but I have to give a PG-13 warning. Movie ratings now allow one use of the "R-rated" swear word (in a none-sexual context) before the film receives an R rating. There are so many movies now that have little objectionable content except for the one use of this word (Stranger Than Fiction is a good example). Without this and a few other remarks, the film would probably be rated PG.

A warning, however, about Julie Powell's blog and book. These both have many uses of strong language (she is a New Yorker, after all) and some pretty explicit sexual content. Just a heads up before you select this book for your Relief Society book circle. Stick with Julia Child's My Life in France or one of several biographies about her. If you want a book that is not as daunting as Mastering the Art of French Cooking, check out Julia Child's *Julia's Kitchen Wisdom* (only 160 pages).

What did Julia Child think of the blog? Judith Jones, Julia Child's long-time friend and publisher reported that Julia didn't consider Powell "a serious cook" and thought the blog was a flimsy stunt. She also objected to all of the harsh language (and rightly so). Jones wrote, "Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn’t attractive, to me or Julia."