Friday, September 18, 2009

JULIE & JULIA - boring and brilliant respectively

JULIE & JULIA has the dubious honour of being the first movie based on a blog - the blog of a thirty-year old failed writer called Julie, cooking her way through the legendary cookbook, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child. I say legendary, and there's even an SNL spoof by a young Dan Ackroyd showing how far this 6 foot 2, preppy woman had entered the American mainstream with her cooking show. I'd never heard of her.

The movie, written and directed by Nora Ephron of WHEN HARRY MET SALLY fame, is a bit of a mixed bag. To my surprise, I was utterly captivated by the story of Julia Child. Meryl Streep is absolutely enchanting as Julia - no-nonsense, up for any challenge, relentlessly optimistic, and yet hard-working too. In Paris after World War Two, she took Cordon Bleu courses designed for professionals and peopled by men. She studied hard, tested and tested recipes, honed her skills, and many years later received great success. All this with the unfailing support of her charming husband, Paul, a US diplomat, played by Stanley Tucci. They seemed to have a rather wonderful marriage, appreciating each other's eccentricities. Indeed, this is one of the most wonderful depictions of a happy marriage I have seen on screen (and stands in contrast to the mawkishness of AWAY WE GO.)

I would have loved a proper biopic of Julia Child. But, the price we pay for this new-found interest in Julia Child is dealing with Julie Powell, the blogger. Now I know that there is no little criticism of Julie Powell on the blogosphere - that she exploited Julia Child for fame* - but that strikes me as partly envious of her ensuing book deal, and overlooking the naive and casual ways in which most of us start blogging. Okay, she didn't study like Julia, and so maybe didn't deserve her success as much. But she never claimed to be a master chef. No, my objection to Julie Powell is more simple. She takes time away from Julia Child. A mousy Brooklyn wife, who can't really cook and throws temper tantrums and moans about how poor she is really isn't any competition for Julia Child - a pioneer, self-taught expert and true-life eccentric.

The result is a movie that's still worth watching, purely for the Streep-Tucci segments, but which is boring during the Amy Adams segments. My only other criticism is that, unlike BIG NIGHT, this movie never had me drooling over the food, and surely that's a must?

*Judith Jones, senior editor and vice president at Alfred A. Knopf, and Child's editor and friend, shared Child's sentiments with Publisher's Weekly: "Julia said, 'I don't think she's a serious cook.' ... Flinging around four-letter words when cooking isn't attractive, to me or Julia," Jones said. "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."

JULIE & JULIA was released earlier this year in Canada, the USA, Germany and Austria. It is currently on release in the UK, France and Argentina. It is released next week in the Czech Republic and Estonia. It opens on October 2nd in Finland and Norway. It opens on October 9th in Australia, Bulgaria, Poland and Sweden. It opens on October 15th in Belgium, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, Slovenia, the Ukraine, Brazil, Denmark, Romania and Taiwan. It opens on October 22nd in Greece, New Zealand, Iceland and Italy. It opens on October 30th in Croatia and Mexico. It opens on November 6th in Spain, on November 19th in Portugal and on November 28th in Japan.

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