Friday, July 24, 2009

Julie & Julia

Before there was Alton Brown, Rachel Ray, or Paula Dean there was a foodie who stood head and shoulders above her contemporaries. A woman who went to France barely able to cook an egg, and became one of the most famous chefs in the world; that woman is Julia Child.

“Julie & Julia” is that rarest of movie, something fresh and new. Starring Meryl Streep (Mamma Mia!), Stanley Tucci, Amy Adams (Sunshine Cleaning), and Chris Messina, this movie is not the chick flick one might expect going in, but a whole new genre of film; the Foodie Flick (and why not, they have foodie murder mystery novels after all).

This film is not based one true story, but two . First, it is the story of Julia Child's journey from directionless housewife to published author. Second, it is the story of a directionless cubicle dweller who finds inspiration in Child's cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and combines it with the young concept of blogging to get her life back under her own control by challenging herself to cook every recipe in the book in one year.

Aside from being different on just its subject matter alone, another unique aspect of this film is that it is based on two books. Julia Child's “My Life in France”, and Julie Powell's “Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously” (the title of its 2006 printing). It is also the first film that I know of that is based on someone's blog, although it's not likely to be the last.

The film jumps back and forth between Julia Child (Streep) in the fifties and Julie Powell (Adams) in post 9-11 New York, and frequently draw parallels to the events in their lives as they struggle to create their own identities, deal with setbacks, and soldier on towards their goal. Aside from the time difference between them, it is interesting to note that Julia's events take place over years while Julie's story happens over the course of a single year.

While I was personally more interested in Julie's 2002 side of the story it is impossible to not acknowledge Meryl Streep's performance as Julia Child. Not only does her capturing of Child's bubbly personality dominate every scene she's in, but the filmmakers did not overlook the fact that Julia Child was incredibly tall (around 6'2”), so Streep towers over all but a couple of her co-stars. All of the actors in this movie were great, but this is easily Meryl Streep's best performance in years.

Try to find a theater with comfortable seats for this film, as it is long for a movie of this type. “Julie & Julia” comes in at around two hours long, but it honestly wasn't until about fifteen minutes before the end that I even glanced at my watch. At no point does the film feel like it is dragging, and maybe it is the constant switching back and forth between stories that keeps it from ever feeling like it is getting stuck in one place.

If I were to have any complaints about this movie, there would be only two. My first, and most immediate issue, was Streep's Julia Child voice; my only problem with it was that it instantly made me think of Dan Ackroyd's sketch from Saturday Night Live (which is featured in the film), but this was minor and once the film gets moving I got over it. The other issue was the ending. I cannot really go into why I found it somewhat unsatisfying without spoiling things, but this is again a minor issue as this movie is based on real events, and reality is rarely artistically correct.

This movie is not an experience that must be seen in theaters, but if you are the kind of person that TiVos The Food Network, then it would be a great film to go see with a bunch of your foodie friends if you are tired of the teenaged wizards, fighting robots, explosions, kids with cancer, sappy Rom-Coms, and 3-D children's movies that are cluttering up theaters right now. This is a film that will teach you the value of determination, courage, and butter. “Julie & Julia” is rated PG-13, as it does contain some spicy language, and it will be served up in theaters on August 7th. Be sure to bring your appetite.

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