365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchenby Libby Allen / 12.11.2009
How One Girl Risked Her Marriage, Her Job, and Her Sanity to Master the Art of Living. So goes the pitch for the Julie/ Julia Project, which began as the blogged chronicle of 30-year-old New York administrative worker, Julie Powell, over the year she spent preparing all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s 1961 bestseller Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The blog gathered a mass following and turned to a book, which in turn became Nora Ephron’s film Julie and Julia, in which Amy Adams and Meryl Streep reprise their outstanding 2008 partnership in Doubt.
Besides Doubt, in which she played the dogmatic Sister Aloysius with gruesome understatement, Meryl Streep has been taking large roles lately. From The Devil Wears Prada to that gross Abba film, it’s all been pretty over the top, and here, again, she takes on Julia Child like a super-sized whirlwind. Child was an enormous presence, in physicality and character, and the film goes far to acknowledge this with little tricks along the way like undersized sets so that Streep would appear huge in them and alongside her husband in the film, the excellent Stanley Tucci. What Julie and Julia does is tell two parallel stories. Two women, separated by time and geography and class and more, both passionate about food, both intent on sharing that passion through their cooking. It is a dual telling of story which we have seen before, and the film is in no way extraordinary in structure or theme, but it works. It is quite lovely. What is perhaps the only extraordinary thing here is a Nora Ephron movie which is for once not about romantic pursuit of a man for a woman, or vice versa. Oh, there’s romance; domestic drama and couples in love and couples in conflict, but the central relationships are between two women and their food; a telling of how cooking can bring meaning to two otherwise unremarkable lives and how Julie and Julia affirm their respective purpose and passion through what they cook.
So, in the writing of the film Ephron draws on two true-life stories: Child’s (credited as being the cook who ‘brought French cuisine into the American kitchen’) memoir of life in 1940s/50s France and Powell’s account of her attempt to cook all of Child’s recipes from her small Brooklyn kitchen. Streep is certainly offered the more appealing character and plotline, dominating the film with her panto-ish (and bizarrely accurate) take on Julia Child. Amy Adams does the type of sweetness we know she can do, and inhabits a less interesting story, but a necessary and endearing one no less.
With the climax of the film being, on Child’s part, the publication of her book and foreshadowed leap into stardom once the film is through, and for Powell, the completion of her year (perhaps the first thing she has completed, entirely, alone) with the treacherous boning of a duck, this is not a film which will excite all its viewers. It is a chick flick where food is romanticised above men, where the crucial parts of a feel-good are present and the almost-obligatory domestic dramas satisfy; carried by superb performance. It is not a piece of great significance for many, but for a sap like me, into writing and cooking and too-strong sentimentality, Julie and Julia works, wonderfully.