Saturday, 19 March 2011

Film Review: Julie & Julia (2009)

Nora Ephron directs another tale of interwoven lives, just as she did in "You've Got Mail" and "Sleepless in Seattle". This time it centres not on a potential romance but on the lives of two women, separated by fifty years or so, and how inspiration can come from the most unexpected of places and that hard work will be rewarded... eventually.

Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, a woman who had a major role in introducing French cuisine to the American middle classes. We begin with her in France in 1948 with her diplomat husband Paul, played by the wonderful Stanley Tucci, trying to find some way to fill her days. Various classes later she despairs of finding anything that interests her. The only thing they both have in their lives is food, with the pleasure of eating replacing the children they've never had. Then it dawns on Julia - she should learn how to cook French cuisine. Despite resistance and mocking she learns all there is to know and even meets another two women looking to write a book of French food, and so takes the first step towards fame, though she doesn't know it at the time.

The film also tells us the story of Julie Powell (Amy Adams, in her usual likeable guise) in 2002, who has not achieved nearly as much as her peers and works in a call centre set up to assist those affected by 9/11. Needless to say her work is taking its tole on her emotionally and so, at home in the flat she and her husband rent above a pizza shop, she cooks. And one day the idea comes to her to try to cook every recipe in Julia Child's cookbook within a year, and write about the experience on a blog. And so the cross over begins, as we see how Julie copes making the recipes and how Julia experienced it herself all those years ago. But the film is about far more than just cooking.

Meryl Streep as Julia Child - kooky, larger than life and has the oddest accent.
These are two women trying to make a place for themselves in the world, a place they'll be happy in. They are both married and also need to juggle the needs of a "happy home life" with their aspirations, though neither have children to contend with as well. From the start Julia's relationship with Paul is clearly a healthy, loving and mutually beneficial one. Julie's is not so clear. Her husband Eric (Chris Messina) does appear supportive at times but at one point seems to feel that Julie is putting too much of herself into the project, at the detriment of herself and their marriage. The film seems a little confused at this point as the impression is that we are meant to agree with him, but when compared with the stresses on Julia Child it comes across as a petty situation. However once the obligatory "let's make up" is made nothing more is said about the troubles in Julie's relationship (interesting to note though that the real Julie Powell did separate from her husband).

"I wish I was nearly as interesting as Julia Child"
"Julie and Julia" is a very impressive film, and is incredibly relevant to anyone who is trying to make a dream come true. The use of cooking, traditionally a "chore" that women were seen as having to do, is instead the route to these women's success and brings joy into their lives. It's an inspirational film, though obviously leaves a lot of truth out for the sake of the story. The sections with Julia Child are also much more entertaining then those with Julie, though the balance is good, with neither being focused on too much at the expense of the other. There is also a great moment when Julie finds out what Julia Child thought of her blog. It's a stern reminder that idolisation can only go so far, and the reality of the person we admire may not match our ideas about them. The performances are excellent throughout, and Meryl Streep is clearly in her element playing the over-the-top Ms. Child. Yummy in every sense, "Julie and Julia" is a fun ride and shows that reaching our goals isn't always impossible, just very difficult.


  1. I remember, throughout that film, wondering if Julia Child would ever find out about Julie's project. I expected, of course, that she wouldn't, or if she did, she would either be full of praise --- or ignore it. The way that bit played out was a jarring surprise.

    The fact that there was no explanation of exactly why Julia was unhappy with Julie's project, was especially jarring, but in a poignant way. As soon as I found myself resenting that silence, I found myself echoing complaints I've had about real life --- the resentment felt toward a hiring professional who'd hired someone else, for example. We look for explanations in a situation like that, and almost never find them. Of course, in the rare event we DO find them, they don't make us feel any better... and yet, some of us still bother even though we know it's completely unproductive.

    I suppose a lot of published authors might also feel that way about unflattering reviews of their work.

  2. I recently watched 'Julie and Julia' partly based on your tweet-recommend, and find I agree with you about the film in general - being a big fan of Stanley Tucci, Streep and Adams. I too, was also a little confused by the brief squabble between Julie and her partner, given the evident harmony between the two couples until that point. Having read up afterwards a little more on Julie Powell, Adams's portrayal was perhaps too nice, but these are only brief moments of others' lives of course, and we can't read too much into them.

    I think one significant difference between the two story lines demonstrated the different pace of lives (and success - albeit at different levels) between the two times. Whereas Julia spent eight years defining, testing, writing and re-writing her recipes, then toiled for recognition with a host of publishers, Julie's 'fame' came in a more immediate manner, such that her travails had not finished before she was receiving recognition. True, her fame is much less than Julia's but what fame arrived, came fast. Perhaps that instant spotlight has led to some of Julie's real-life issues.

    On a similar vein, I think there's also that Julia only sought to look elsewhere in her life when it was evident that her desired role was denied her, but Julie was looking for a role very much at the start of her married life.

    So there were a few perpendiculars amongst the parallels.

  3. Siebendach, totally agree it was good that they never went into why Julia Child reacts the way she did, and it definitely resembles real life as sometimes you never know why people think the way they do. And in any creative work feedback is always a blessing and a curse - too positive and the creator can begin to think there's nothing to learn, too negative and they can wonder what the point of trying is. But any kind of feedback is definitely better than no feedback at all! I thought the way Julie ultimately handled it was the best way - she didn't let it put a stop to what she was doing and she kept faith in her project.

    MainyMike, that's a very good point about the "perpendiculars", it also struck me that the expectations of Julia compared with Julie were very different, due to the time periods in which they lived. I got the impression that Child was in it for the experience rather than any thought about getting famous (just my pov on it, others may see her differently) whereas Julie comes across as feeling that she's meant to be more than she is, that she has to be "more" in order to matter. That may be another reason why I preferred Julia, as I'm not a fan of the "feeling of entitlement" that seems so common among people in the modern age.

    Thanks for the comments!