Review: Julie & Julia (2009)
Julie and Julia, which is currently available to stream on Netflix, is a warm, comforting double retelling of two women whose lives revolve around food.
The asynchronous dual narrative of Julie (Amy Adams) and Julia (Meryl Streep) is based on two true stories which play out in the early 2000s and 1950s, respectively. Julie, a self described 'lowly cubicle worker' living in the outer reaches of New York City is transfixed by the idea of finishing something after spending a decade writing a book that was never published. After all previous efforts of doing something besides working in a thankless job have failed, she chooses to use Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking to provide her with a personal challenge that she can enjoy.
365 days. 524 recipes. The task she sets herself is an ambitious one, as Julie and her husband Eric agree. The recipes are complex, they require expensive, unusual ingredients (in addition to a truck load of butter – it is French cuisine, after all!) and many take time and patience to master. The fact that Julie decides to blog her journey to a steadily growing audience only adds to the pressure, which starts off as a positive motivator, but at one stage turns into an unhealthy obsession.
Intertwined with Julie’s culinary marathon is Julia’s journey as a food teacher in Paris. Streep brings oodles of charisma to this character, as one might expect. She is fun to be around and extremely captivating to watch, not to mention hilarious even though this may not be de rigueur. As an aristocratic American woman assimilating into Parisian life, it could have gone down like an out-of-date sack of potatoes, but, au contraire, Streep plays Child as someone who is unapologetically herself – even in potentially hostile environments. She’s a complete delight.
Julia Child – and her relationship with her husband, Paul (Staley Tucci) - is portrayed in an impressively progressive way. First of all, there is the central matter of cooking. Child makes it clear that her ambition to become a master in the kitchen extends well beyond the remit of serving her man nice meals. She doesn’t want to be a home cook; she wants to be the best. She sets her sights on being professionally trained so that she can teach others the art of French cooking. Despite the director of the cookery school doing her best to dissuade her from taking the advanced course on account of a woman never having taken it before, here comes Julia breaking down those gender norms with such tenacity that the male chefs don’t quite know how to react to her. The competitiveness she displays is admirable and as she practices her knife skills at home after the first session, the self-rivalry becomes a source of humour too.
Secondly, Paul and Julia’s marriage is such a refreshing one to witness. Paul is a success in his own field and is supportive of Julia’s efforts to achieve her goals too, even if this does sometimes mean he comes home to a pile of chopped onions as tall as him. When he needs to uproot their life for his job, she goes along with it; when she needs a cheerleader to realise how great her book is, he’s there for her. Their mutually respectful relationship is almost as comforting as the delicious French cuisine being prepared throughout the film. Finally, Julia as a person is not stereotypically feminine: she is tall (taller than her husband, as is her sister), she isn’t a mother, she speaks loudly, she is formidable in the face of confrontations. However, Ephron has written (and directed) her is such a way that these characteristics never come across as obnoxious or dislikeable. She is simply an ambitious woman who is happy in her own skin and in a healthy marriage – an on-screen revelation!
The symmetry between each narrative, though divided by five decades of culture and social change, is wonderful to see and hear. The subtle diversion from a single thread where we experience one character’s development is also a welcome change. Yes, there are moments which are very twee (one such case in point is when Julia and Julie both say, “You are the butter to my bread, you are the breath to my life,”) but Ephron just about gets away with it. What’s a feel-good film without a bit of cheese anyway? (We’ll call it brie to keep the French theme rolling!)
Julie and Julia is a film about being saved by food. When Julia set out to hold culinary classes, her goal was to teach Americans in Paris how to cook. Julie may not have been in France, but through Nora Ephron's lens in a poky New York apartment, we are privy to how the process of learning how to cook can open more doors than imaginable. Julia Child’s seminal book and TV show brought new knowledge to her audience, Julie’s experience was a personal insight for the readers of her blog, and as a result of this biopic and Ephron's storytelling, hundreds of thousands of viewers can continue on this culinary journey with the infectious enthusiasm of two marvellous women. Bon appétit!
Verdict: Amy Adams wrestling a load of lobsters into a stockpot... check. Meryl Streep blissfully battering some pastry with a rolling pin... check. Nora Ephron brings a copious amount of joy to our screens with a mouth-watering cast and just the right balance of sentimentality and humour. Now, va manger - it's what Julia would want you to do!
Big screen appeal? 🎬🎬🎬
Accolade eligibility? 💡💡💡