Julie Powell had buttery ambitions: cooking her way through the 524 aspic and marrow-laden recipes of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. And she did it all in a stuffy Queens, New York apartment the size of a cat litter box.
I read Julie & Julia last summer, and actually found myself craving butter and beef in an unnatural way. I immediately admired Julie for her fearless attempt to bitch-slap French cooking without a gym membership—all the while chronicling her sticky predicament on a saucy blog detailing the grandiose failures, dropped ducks, lobster murders and gimlet intake.
In Nora Ephron’s film, Meryl Streep is the perfect Julia Child, a chortling cherub in pearls who gets weak in the knees over a wheel of brie. I wanted to sip all of Julia’s simmering broths and stare at her gams and hams with a port while she hummed and clattered around her kitchen (which is now a famed installation at the Smithsonian). Amy Adams portrayal of the non-fiction Julie Powell was unfortunately a bit whiny and twerpy, and had me longing for a jump scene to Meryl’s charming Julia in 1950s France.
The movie runs in two separate but interwined story lines based on Julia’s memoir (My Life in France) and Julie’s butter blog end-product (Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 recipes,1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen). The competing plots feed each other appropriately, and most often, sensually. Julia stuffs the bird that Julie beautifully glazes years later.
Chris Messinna plays a relatively dorky Eric Powell with all the manners of a caveman when it comes to sampling his wife’s culinary successes and disasters. Online reviews have credited Eric for his staying power and doting husband-ness. As Julie threw flour-dusted tantrums on the kitchen floor and wailed over unintentionally blackened beef, Eric talked her through every situation with the eloquence of a syrupy Hallmark card.
I think I rooted for Powell more in her book as she was a genuine trucker-mouth in an apron with an unstoppable ambition to reach her goal. And she drank a lot more in the book, understandably. The movie “Julie” was leaning towards the spinelessness of a jellyfish, falling prey to frequent teary episodes as her soufflés waffled and non-congealing aspics were turned on to serving plates with the consistency of a snotty nose.
The girl had guts though, and a primal love for Julia Child, who basically dissed Julie and her humble goal in the end. Julia saw naive mockery, Julie envisioned an honourable tribute. I was reminded of the time that my lit hero Margaret Atwood looked down her snooty nose at me (actually, up her snooty nose as I was about 10 inches taller) at the Royal York Hotel and gave me the brush-off like I was cat hair on her black wool jacket. In that moment of reflection, I felt a little compassion for Julie, jilted like I was by Atwood. Oh, the red-faced agony. I think if I were Powell I may have ditched the loving year-long tribute to Child and boiled the French cooking tome with pork hocks and piss—and then chucked it over the balcony.
Certainly, the film is a testament to the power of butter and blogging. Julie Powell had a dead-end government clerk cubicle job that was left in her blog
pixie dust when Eric suggested she write about what she loved, cooking. As Julia Child said, “find something you’re interested in and keep tremendously interested in it.”
And now Julie Powell is laughing into her mortar and pestle, probably eating Oreos for breakfast while sipping Dom through a pink bendy straw.
Regardless, super-sizing Powell’s blog into a movie was clever because the world loves to eat. The camera work that examines Julie and Julia’s boiling and sizzling meat is screened like lingering shots of a lover’s body. As a director, Ephron makes the audience crave whatever is in the pots, pans and on the lips of the stars, teasing us with decadent food and Streep’s bang-on accent. The woman is like a juke box of dialects.
In addition to my affection for anything Meryl Streep and food blogs, I’ve also become a bulimic fan of Food Network television. Ina Garten and Nigella Lawson have turned their kitchens into the equivalent of the Playboy mansion of food stuffs. Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential and foodie show No Reservations are totally pornographic–the Red Light District of food. Anna Olson’s Sugar is a fairytale la-la land of lace cookies, crisps, crumbles and fritters. Then there’s Bob Blumer who can take a simple Medjool date, stuff it with parmigiano-Reggiano and wrap it in salty bacon and make it seem like a love scene from The Hunger or Blue Lagoon. I’ve already decided—those Medjool dates are going to be my substitute for wedding cake.
Julia & Julia will piggyback on the addictions of the Food Network’s captive audience. The lusty lure of sugary cakes, smoking grills and open cupboards brought to the big screen will be like leading flies to a just-baked pie. We have Julia Child to thank for this, she was the pioneer of butter smut and fricassee wet dreams after all.
Interestingly, Julia Child attributed her longevity to red meat and gin. Julie Powell will attribute it to butter and a blog.
And Jules Torti? All of the above with movie popcorn. Bon appétit.
My Julia Child Thai cooking experience–
Meryl Streep and Amy Adams dish out their favourite Julia Child recipes—
The real live Julie Powell, still blogging–
The Blumer Medjool date recipe–
The movie trailer–