Julie & Julia is essentially two films about how passion and food can change peoples lives. Although in Julia Child’s case, the bon vivant American cook with French sensibilities changed the lives of a whole nation used to eating convenience food in post war America and beyond. The other Julie of the title is Julie Powell. The only life she is changing is that of her own and she represents the vanity of everyday bloggers who are looking for instant fame and attention.
Originally conceived as two separate movies, director-writer Nora Ephron decided that Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France and Julie Powell’s blog memoir, Julie & Julia, didn’t have enough meat to sustain a 90 minute feature on their own. This is a shame because Julia Child’s other life in France is not only thrilling reading, but with Meryl Streep’s performance as the passionate lover of life Julia Childs, the film is absolutely riveting and laugh out loud funny. Unfortunately, Julie Powell’s life is hardly the stuff of legend and hardly changes lives. Comparing her contemporary life as an unfulfilled writer in NYC to Child’s talent, hard work, and genuine need to teach others, is nothing short of insulting.
Nora Ephron is no stranger to juxtaposing lives in her work in films such as You’ve Got Mail (1998) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993). Her trademark comic timing and direction will not disappoint Ephron fans. But my heart sank every time Ephron returns to the story of Julie Powell. Amy Adams, Streep’s co-star in Doubt, fails to ignite any sympathy or even much care from audiences as her portrayal of Powell as nothing more than an under achiever who is jealous of her friends successes and embarks on a project that she at least hopes she will finish. Adams’ Powell is not cooking for the greater good or writing a self-help book, she isn’t even teaching herself the fine art of cuisine. But maybe this is Ephron’s point all along about how blogs and the internet as a whole, validates our existence, or at least goes to prove that with as little effort as possible, a blogger’s mundane life can be pitched against the life of one of the most influential people in America. How many of us rushed to write blogs on hearing of Julie Powell’s book deal? How little of us want to put in the hard graft, the real work into being another Julia Child. Ephron’s second and by far less interesting story of Powell makes the biggest statement of our 21st century lives.
Julie Powell works as temp middle manager in a New York government office, answering calls from distraught 9/11 victims and families. The work is full time strain on her emotions. Living in Queens with her loving editor husband Eric (Chris Messina), she cooks in their tiny kitchen and uses the time as her only escape from the day. Powell is approaching thirty and is constantly aware of her unfulfilled life. Her husband suggest she start a blog about cooking and Powell, with Child’s cook book in hand, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, embarks on a year long project to cook up all 524 recipes and blog about her adventure.
Back in 1948, Julia Child and her husband Paul, dashingly played by Stanley Tucci, are brought to Paris because of Paul’s job as a cultural attaché at the American embassy. The couple’s liberal outlook and enjoyment for life and French food, give Julia a reason de’tair. Julia’s hobby turns to passion after she becomes the first American to study at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. She meets fellow foodies, Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey) to co-write Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
There’s no contest as to whose life is more appealing and Streep and Tucci’s chemistry, united again after their starring roles in The Devil Wears Prada, is a joy to watch.