By Amy Tetreault
Julie & Julia – 2009 – dir. Nora Ephron
Julie and Julia weaves together the stories of two very different women: “My Life in France,” Julie Child’s autobiography and Julie Powell’s “Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.”
We all know Powell’s story by now: She aspires to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” over the course of a year, maintaining a blog of her mishaps. Powell kicks off the project because she hates her job, feels inadequate compared to her friends, and doesn’t have much else going on. That’s a tough spot to be in – and she knows that writing a blog about cooking food that’s beyond her technical ability isn’t going to fix everythin, but at least it’s a distraction.
As Powell, Amy Adams is adept and sweet and witty, but can also be self-absorbed and irritating. More importantly, she’s a realistic character. The interesting twist? The real Julie Powell is rumored to be even more compelling than her film depiction. Her new book “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat and Obsession” tells the story of her extramarital affair (and apprenticeship at a butcher’s shop) and is currently causing a firestorm of opinions. I mean, most of us don’t condone cheating…but don’t you find it interesting how people expect someone they’ve never met to act a certain way? As blogger Sara Freeman wrote in Chicago Now, “Powell’s audience is absolutely infuriated with her because she failed to live up to their expectations for a proper follow up to “Julie and Julia”. What should she have done? Hosted her own cooking show about baking cupcakes while wearing a pink apron? Should she have birthed a few children and wrote a memoir about introducing them to French cuisine?”
Perhaps it’s because I’m young and identify more with Powell (well, Adams), but watching her strange story is more entertaining than Child’s. After all, Child was blessed with an amazing career, a doting husband, more travel opportunities than necessary, and enough cash to sustain my student loans. Obviously Child is an iconic and fantastic woman, but her storyline in the film occasionally seems fluffed. The film moments that are intended to solicit empathy from the audience can be irritating. Personally, I don’t feel bad when a major publisher doesn’t immediately buy her cookbook, and I certainly don’t feel her pain when she’s forced to move to another part of France. Those aren’t problems.
But let me be clear: Watching Julia Child’s story on screen does not reflect on Child’s real life or on Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the famous chef. As Child, Streep is unparalleled. Rolling Stone said it best with “Meryl Streep — at her brilliant, beguiling best — is the spice that does the trick for the yummy Julie & Julia,” In fact, Streep has already won the Golden Globe for best supporting actress and was nominated for her 16th Oscar acting nomination last week for her role in Julie and Julia. Imagine what she could have accomplished if director Nora Ephron provided her with a more substantial script!
But what’s done is done. And after watching this film, I’ve learned a few important lessons. Most importantly: Although I want to be Julia Child in real life, I prefer to watch Julie Powell.
And never try to cook Beef Bourguignon. I have a feeling it would be a disaster.