August 6, 2009

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Julie & Julia (PG-13)
Julia Child and Julie Powell give hope to late bloomers and food-lovers everywhere in the delightful Julie & Julia, an adaptation of two autobiographies — Powell’s Julie & Julia and Child’s My Life in France.

The latter, which was written with Alex Prud’homme (whose great-uncle was Child’s husband Paul), was published after Child’s death and covers her life in France in the late 1940s and 1950s. Paul worked at the State Department and they moved there a few years into their marriage.

Julie & Julia was adapted from Powell’s blog and is the kind of book all of us food-lovers/undiscovered writers dream about. In 2002, Powell decided to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and gave herself a year to do it. Eventually, the New York Times wrote about her efforts (in a scene which in the movie features real-life Times writer Amanda Hesser — you could tell who the real food nerds in the audience where when they, and I, squealed when she came on screen) and she published a book.

Here, we see how Julie (Amy Adams) and Julia (Meryl Streep) become Julie Powell and Julia Child.

When Julia Child moves to France with Paul (Stanley Tucci), she finds herself delighted by France but bored in her role as housewife and desperate to find something to do that isn’t just a hobby but can become her life’s work. She eventually finds Le Cordon Bleu and falls in love with cooking — which leads her to work on a French cookbook geared toward an American audience with Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey) and Simone Beck (Linda Edmond), a woman who becomes her lifelong friend.

Meanwhile, some 50 or so years later, Julie Powell is a temp at an agency handling Sept. 11-related issues in New York City. Her work is emotionally draining, she and husband Eric (Chris Messina) have just moved into a less-than-perfect apartment in Queens over a pizza parlor and, nearing 30, she feels adrift as other friends find success in their work. A longtime lover of food and cooking, Julie decides to start a blog with the focus being the 500-plus recipes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the book Child writes with Bertholle and Beck that will catapult her into international foodie fame.

For both women, these food-projects become about more than food, more than the finished product, more than even the fame it brings to both of them. These explorations of classic French home cooking become a way to find themselves, find confidence and find direction.

Until they make a movie set to the songs of West Side Story and featuring Anita as a zombie-fighting cheese-maker, there couldn’t be a movie more to my personal tastes and interests than Julie & Julia. Food, writing, finding one’s place in the world, married life, butter — it’s all there. I loved both books that this movie comes from, and Ephron’s adaptation is skilled and faithful in spirit and story. Streep and Adams both give spot-on performances and you get their life stories while also getting — without sappiness — the underlying themes of following your dream. I like that these stories give us women who are already married and still looking for that thing that can give them purpose — too often movie make that “thing” a husband and it’s nice to see some recognition that life isn’t a Jane Austen movie. After the wedding, a girl in search of direction will still be a girl in search of direction, just one with a nice ring and someone to share the rent with. Child was nearing 40 when her book came out and Powell was 30 when her blog ended. For those of us floating in between those numbers and beyond it’s also fun to see self-discovery happen after those much documented post-college 20something years.

Also without sappiness is the kind of Julia Child-worship this movie inspires — or maybe there is plenty of sappiness but I bought into it completely. The book Julie & Julia made me go out and buy both volumes of Mastering. The movie has me wanting to buy all those DVDs of Julia Child’s cooking shows that I’ve seen floating around in recent years.

I leave to someone who is less of a Julia fan and less of a food-lover (the cooking scenes are glorious; the countless boeuf bourguignon shots made me feel a little faint) to pick the nits of this movie and objectively review it. As with the very best meal, I came hungry and left happy. A-

Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sensuality. Written and directed by Nora Ephron (from Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme), Julie & Julia is two hours and three minutes long and will open in wide release on Friday, Aug. 7. It is distributed by Columbia Pictures.