Julie & Julia (2009)

Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and some sensuality.
Length: 123 minutes
Grade: CCCC=C
Budget: $40 million
Box Office: $154 million (94 U.S., 24 Intl., 35 DVD)

Written and Directed by: Nora Ephron (Bewitched, Hanging Up, You’ve Got Mail, Michael, Sleepless in Seattle, My Blue Heaven, When Harry Met Sally, and Silkwood), based on the books by Julie Powell and Julia Child.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, and Chris Messina.

This is a dual biography told in parallel fashion, first of Julia Child’s experiences in France from housewife to international cooking expert and then of Julie Powell’s year-long adventure of cooking and blogging her way through Child’s masterpiece, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

Entertainment Value: C
Weirdly, I both wanted this movie to be better going in, and I wish I could grade it higher after having seen it. I WANT to like this movie, but it was really just okay. I think part of my problem was I just never could get connected with the practical issues of this neo-outcast New York socialite simultaneously barely surviving in her 900 square-foot apartment but having plenty enough money for whatever culinary delight she wanted. This disconnect was even more amplified when she and her husband have a fight and he just leaves for a couple of days later in the film. I just couldn’t comprehend that given the characters as presented or the fact that they are married. But the other problem for me (and remember I still thought it was good enough overall for a C) was Meryl Streep’s performance. Now hear me out. Meryl Streep is a national treasure, and everyone knows it, including me. And her ability to become Julia Child in this movie was truly terrific. She will likely get the Oscar for best actress, rightly so and barely enough to make up for not getting it for Doubt. But about halfway through the movie, I realized that she was exhausting me. I checked with Dani, and she concurred. It was just emotionally draining in an unfun way to watch her do this spectacularly good performance.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity C, Violence A, Language C
Everybody drinks alcohol all the time, and there is a fair amount of smoking, but no drunkenness. There are a couple of fairly intense pre-sexual scenes, including between Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep. Although, and I think it’s VERY important to say this: all the sex in this movie is between married people and healthily so. The language alone would justify PG-13, although this is a case where every use of it I found fit the story line and amplified the scene rather than the contrary. The only violence to speak of in this movie is that done to various animals, including (hilariously) lobsters.

Significant Content: C
Finishing things is a very important form of self-fulfillment. Anyone can cook if they just apply themselves and get decent instruction. Even things which we enjoy can sometimes be a grind. Having a supportive spouse is very, very important. If you’re bored by your life, you’ll be happier finding something you love to do and doing it. McCarthyism was really bad.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
I was liking this movie pretty well (other than eventually feeling exhausted by Julia) until almost the very end. And then they decided to include a moment where a reporter tells Julie that the real Julia Child did not appreciate what she was doing and was against it. This was so incongruous with the happy-go-lucky lively and all-approving persona we had been seeing from Julia that I couldn’t reconcile the two. It was truly jarring. Was the real Julia just old? Had her character changed? Was I being lied to about who she had been all along? That was difficult enough to process, but then the movie did absolutely nothing to help me out. There was no resolution of this mid-movie collision. I assumed we’d find something out at least in the end credits, but I had to go check out the director commentary to find anything. And so here’s the problem. Although this is a fact in the year-long experiment, it should not have been introduced if there was not going to be some sort of continuity or resolution to it. I was really enjoying my Beef Bourguignon just fine when someone dumped a bucket of weeds and dirt on it.

Discussion Questions:
~Although both of the projects chronicled in this movie (writing the cookbook and then cooking through it) were long and arduous, neither of the women ever seemed very close to giving it up despite some people around them who thought they should. What does this say about these women? What does it say about their passion for the project?
~Do you find cooking to be a joy or a grind? How likely is it that there are tips and tricks in cooking that you don’t know you don’t know?
~Do either of these women’s lives mean more because their exploits led to fame and publishing? In the end, is Julie different from her ridiculous New York friends or just the same?
~Does sexuality in a movie mean something different when it’s between a husband and a wife rather than between just a couple?
~Is this film exalting the successful and happy housewife portrayed in 50’s era television or holding it up to ridicule against the realities of modern life?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The foreplay between Streep and Tucci. How did you react to this scene? Why does it seem so unusual to see older people make out (if it does)? What does your reaction to this very healthy marriage say about our culture and its influences on us?
~Eric leaving Julie and staying gone for a couple days. Can you imagine a married person behaving this way, especially his character?
~Julie getting the call about Julia’s dislike for her project. Do you think it was a mistake or a wise choice to include this scene, especially without any follow-up explanation?

Overall Grade: C
This is a movie which could have been and should have been great, especially to a foodie like me. Unfortunately, it failed to be great. But if you haven’t already seen it, a truly outstanding film which actually will satisfy the foodie in you, try Babette’s Feast. Magnificent!


Naum said...

I had the same reaction as you, but I kind of cheated — while sitting on couch watching, looking up info on Julie Powell (basically reading Wikipedia page(s) and reviews from her tell-all self-scandalous recent book), and that was a big problem for the movie in general — the incongruence between Child and what reportedly appears to be a very narcissistic, unlikable woman…


Child is reported to have been unimpressed by Powell's blog, believing Powell's determination to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year to be a stunt. Child's editor, Judith Jones, said in an interview: "Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn’t attractive, to me or Julia. She didn’t want to endorse it. What came through on the blog was somebody who was doing it almost for the sake of a stunt. She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned. Julia didn’t like what she called ‘the flimsies.’ She didn’t suffer fools, if you know what I mean."[13] Some critics would come to the same conclusion when evaluating the film Julie & Julia, praising Meryl Streep's work as the beloved chef and panning the Julie Powell (Amy Adams) portion of the film.

Andrew Tallman said...

See, now that actually makes some sense to me. One incongruous possibility is that the movie was falsely portraying Child as being much nicer than she really was and the negative reaction to Powell was her real self. But the more likely possibility is that Powell was being falsely portrayed as being much more likable (and less vulgar, especially on her blog) than she was in real life. Hence, Child's reaction becomes more natural than the movie leads us to feel by making Powell seem so much better. Thanks for the clarification. So that means that the movie, by including this weird comment, wound up exposing its own deceit about Powell.

Naum said...

Well, did it have to be included? An interesting dilemma for the producers, especially considering that once the story is "bought", director license can entail quite a bit of creative arrangement (just read the wailing and gnashing on fiction/SF writers/script writer blogs…)

Odd too that I never heard of her blog hitherto, especially considering the timeframe — prior to the explosion of mass bloggers…