Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Julie/Julia Project

Julie & Julia (2009) is a chick flick "based on two true stories" about women from different eras linked by their common interest in food and the men who stood behind them on their journeys to fame. The film takes the slightly unconventional choice of telling two stories that never directly intersect. While not common in mainstream cinema, this technique has been tried before, most notably in The Hours (2002), which also starred Meryl Streep.

Julie Powell, played by Amy Adams, is a young woman living in New York in 2002. She has a stressful and heart wrenching job dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 from a cubicle. She comes home every day and cooks for herself and her husband as a way of dealing with the stress. Her friends are upwardly mobile social elites moving up the ranks of the business world while she remains professionally stagnant. Julie envisions herself as a writer but she gave up on her novel, unable to maintain interest in a long term goal. What she needed was some inspiration.

This is where the "Julia" half of the story comes in. The film also tells the story of how Julia Child, the famous chef, author, and TV personality rose to prominence in the late '50s. She arrives in Paris with her husband and while she loves the city she quickly becomes bored and begins looking for things to do. After realizing hat making wasn't her true passion she decides to take cooking classes. She starts out in a beginner's a class with other women but complains to the school's administrator that she was looking for something more challenging and enrolls in an advanced, all male class. She soon outshines her classmates with her fearless mentality and bubbly charm. Eventually she meets two other female chefs Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle and the trio begins work on a book designed to teach french cooking techniques to American housewives.

Back in New York, Julie, like Julia, realizes her true passion is food, and with the help of her husband she decides to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the book Julia Child is struggling to get published in the other half of the film, and write a blog about it as she goes. She gives herself one year to cook 524 recipes and along the way she has a series of "meltdowns" as she struggles with the enormity of the task she has assigned herself. However, as she labors day after day her blog begins to take off, becoming one of the most popular on the internet, giving her mission a purpose.

Both stories could have been adapted into feature length films in their own right, but when put together they become stronger. As the film shifts between stories, each getting about and hour of screen time, we can see parallels forming between the two women. The most important of these is how their husbands played such an important role in helping them accomplish their missions.

Paul Child, played by Stanly Tucci, quietly supports Julia in everything she does, no matter how crazy it sounds to anyone else. He obviously and openly loves her and encourages and inspires her to continue to follow her passion. Eric Powell, Julie's husband played by Chris Messina, is the one who originally helped her get the idea to blog about cooking, but as tension builds and meltdowns begin to pile up he gets through the frustration and continues to support her. Without both of these men standing behind their wives the female lead characters would have likely been unable to accomplish their goals. Julia might have given up on her book without Paul's encouragement and Julie might not even have started, let alone finish without Eric. The film deserves a lot of credit for clearly expressing this point since it would have been much less risky, considering the intended audience, to make it a film all about "girl power" overcoming all obstacles.

Streep and Adams both do very well with their respective co-lead roles, especially with the cooking scenes, which must have been very difficult to train for and shoot from a technical perspective. Overall it's a good film, but maybe not quite as emotional or inspiring as it could have been. The plot flattens out a bit in the middle and you may catch yourself checking your watch once or twice, but for the most part it's a quality story and production about the determination to reach goals and the support support structures that help along the way.

Julie & Julia (2009) 7/10


  1. I read the book, but haven't seen the movie. I wasn't all that fond of the book. It did a good job of conveying Julia Child's personality, but left the Julie character feeling somewhat generic. Probably because it's hard for someone to write about themselves. I'm assuming the movie must be better because it wouldn't have that issue. Nice review. Keep it up. (And I'm not just saying that because I'm you're mom.)

  2. A review? I thought you were trying to stay away from this and do something with more substance. Something that makes one think about the world around them. To make people see things in a different light. To inspire and challenge and create. Not for you to say "Oh, this is cool!!!one!oneone!!!"

    Also, good review. I didn't really have an inclination to see this, but the story sounds pretty interesting. I doubt I'll see it in theaters, but on HBO perhaps . . . :)