Sunday, October 18, 2009

Julie and Julia: Warm, funny and delicious

Well the movie is out now in Australia and I have seen it for a second time with my movie buddy Dee. Julie and Julia is a skilful weaving by director Nora Ephron of two stories: how Julia Child discovered French food (told in her memoir "My Life in France") and how a New York secretary called Julie Powell decided to cook her way through Child's famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year and write a daily blog about it (told in her subsequent book Julie and Julia). It was a very clever decision by Ephron to combine the two stories, as I can't imagine a film on Powell's exploits alone would have been sustainable for 90+ minutes. Yes so she decided to cook 524 dishes in 365 days, but there are only so many ways to capture this on film, and as it is only the interesting episodes from Powell's blog and subsequent book made it to the screen. I read through Powell's blog recently and can also say that she bears little resemblance to the sweet (if feisty) character portrayed by Amy Adams. Being an acolyte of Alice Waters and a bit of a locavore myself, I found her strident criticisms of both harder to take than the expletives with which her writing is peppered.

Far more interesting is the story of Julia Child's introduction to cooking, as well as her relationship with her husband Paul - they clearly adored each other. Julia Child came to both marriage and cooking late: She apparently didn't know how to cook until her thirties and married Child at 34. She threw herself into both with (an apparently characteristic) enthusiasm. Meryl Streep's portrayal of Child is delicious, and she dominates the movie: when it switched back to Powell's story I found myself impatiently waiting for it to return to Child.

The food in Julie and Julia is as authentically portrayed as you would expect from Ephron who is herself a bit of a foodie. There was a great article in the New York Times about the food styling in the movie, which Ephron insisted be real - no fake food for this movie.

I loved the movie and can see why its release in America took Mastering the Art to the top of the best-sellers list for the first time and also brought a flood of orders from there for the few copies I had in stock (it also made it a very hot item on - first editions continue to sell for hundreds of dollars at the time of writing). Streep/Child's enthusiasm for food and love of the process of cooking are palpable and makes you want to Master the Art yourself.

The response to the movie in Australia has not been as enthusiastic. When David and I saw it the first time in SF, there were about ten people in the matinee session, around 6 weeks after it had come out. When Dee and I went to see it on its opening day at our local cinema there were only about 6. Everyone who has seen it has loved it and I've had quite a few people (women mostly) come to the shop after seeing it wanting to buy a copy of the book. But I suspect that Child doesn't have the same iconic status in Australia as she does in USA. Her tv series was never shown here, and while Mastering the Art had sold over 800,000 copies prior to the movie's release, few of those copies made it to Australian shores, and it just wasn't the staple in Australian kitchen libraries as it was in American ones (it was after all specifically aimed at "servantless American cooks"). More's the pity, it is a great book, and one which provides accessible instruction for those of us who will never make it to a Cordon Bleu cooking school.

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