Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Movie Review: Julie and Julia

In 1961 Julia Child defied many boundaries placed on her by the culture she grew up in and published a book called Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It presented 524 haute cuisine [1] recipes in such a way that they could be understood and carried out by the average American housewife. She struggled to get the manuscript published. This is portrayed in the movie in parallel with the efforts of a New York blogger, Julie Powell, to make all 524 recipes within one year (and blog about it) and the strain this puts on her and her marriage.

On the show you eventually find out that Julia Child herself was appalled at Julie Powell's blog. The film makes it seem irrational—how could anyone, much less Julia Child who got along with just about everyone, dislike this good-intentioned and pitiable woman? As it turns out Amy Adams bowdlerized her portrayal of Julie Powell (or the director did). On screen she wonders if Julia Child didn't like her blog because "sometimes" she uses profanity.[2] After checking her blog I discovered that she used profanity (and frequently) in nearly every post and that most often it was the coarsest profanity she could muster. On top of this, her next novel was, in part, about an affair she had after the success of her book Julie and Julia. That sure makes her sound like a quality human being, doesn't it?

My verdict: Despite the real Julie Powell's sordid history, I rather liked this film. Meryl Streep does an admiral job of portraying Julia Child.[3] Sometimes Julie Powell's relationship with her husband seemed overdramatized, but the relationship between Julia Child and her husband, Paul Cushing Child, was very believable. The presentation of the meals being made in the movie made me mildly curious to try some of them.[4] But mildly curious isn't enough to pay ~$25 for a cookbook (or $200–$1000 for black truffles).


[1] That's French for "high food", which might give you an idea of how elaborate the preparation and presentation of the meals is.

[2] According to Judith Jones, Julia Child's editor, the profanity played a significant role in this distaste for the blog's author. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie Powell. I cannot say how true to life this was, but the film depicts Julia Child and her husband using some vulgar language back in the 1950s.

[3] Alas, her time in the OSS during World War II is barely touched on.

[4] I am not alone in this. This movie helped the 40th anniversary publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking become a bestseller once again. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Image attributions:

Aspic with Eggs is by Anthony Georgeff, available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Aspic-with-eggs.jpg. 

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