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Friday, Dec. 4, 2009

'Julie and Julia'

Feast of a film interweaves tales of food author, food blogger


On some Hollywood actresses an apron would look all wrong. Amy Adams, however, wears the mantle of housework with a generous willingness that compensates for the occasional clumsiness of her lily white hands. After her stint in house cleaning and trash removal in "Sunshine Cleaning," Hollywood seems to have pegged her as the go-to-girl for domestic labor.

Julie and Julia Rating: (4 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star
MOVIES
Bon appetit: Meryl Streep serves up a wonderful performance in "Julie and Julia."

Director: Nora Ephron
Running time: 123 minutes
Language: English
Opens Dec. 9, 2009
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Witness Adams in "Julie and Julia," as she plays real-life New York office worker/blogger Julie Powell who endeavored to make all 524 recipes in 365 days from the legendary "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Child — and wrote up the whole blood, sweat and tears process on her home computer. This was in 2002, and as Julie cooked her way from poached eggs to boeuf bourguignon, the blog became a megahit, was subsequently published and now adapted to the screen with much foodie insight by Nora Ephron, herself an accomplished cook and cookbook author. (Interestingly, Ephron in HER autobiographical novel, "Heartburn," recounts how she left her philandering husband and made straight for the airport with the same Julia Child cookbook crammed in her suitcase!)

So Julia's book, first published in 1961 and a vital, defining factor in both Julie's novel and the director Ephron's life, appears with reverent consistency in the movie. But in a stroke of genius, Ephron doesn't just dip into the pages, she recreates Julia herself (played wonderfully by Meryl Streep) and true to the title, zigzags back and forth from two time periods — post World War II and present day; two women — the authoress and blogger; and two cities — Paris and New York.

The opening scenes show Julie moving into an apartment in Queens that's upstairs from a pizzeria, saying gloomily to her husband: "What are we doing here?" Julia steps into her modest Paris apartment with husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) and says in rapturous delight: "Oh, this is Versailles!"

Julie's is a stressed-out, dreary kind of life, commuting to a cubicle in lower Manhattan and dealing with insurance claims from 9/11 victims. Julia was an OSS secretary during WWII, had lived in China and married when she was pushing 40. Unfazed and decidedly positive, she's delighted with everything: her newly adopted city, her husband, her meals. ESPECIALLY her meals. As Julie fields insurance calls and has lunch with college girlfriends (they're predictably successful and snooty) ordering limp Cobb Salad, Julia in Paris skips from one market stall to another towering over the much smaller French (she was 186 cm in stockinged feet), launching into a giddy haze of food-shopping nirvana. Or she'd be savoring every morsel of a warm, buttery whatever with Paul at their favorite little bistro. "What do you like to do most?" asks an adoring Paul and she trills happily: "Eat!"

It's only a matter of a few frames before Julia discovers her raison d'etre — to master French cooking and then to impart her knowledge for the benefit of "the servant-less American woman."

As Julia registers for classes at Cordon Bleu, Julie in her apartment kitchen decides to blog about her decision to go through Julia's book, encouraged by supportive, upbeat husband Eric (Chris Messina). Sadly though, for all her spunky efforts Julie gets a wee bit wearing - she's inclined to whine and bitch when NOT slaving over the stove so when she's actually having to "murder" a lobster or get the aspic (which is essentially a jelly made from calf liver) to congeal, she can get pretty bombastic with the complaints. Julia is so much more fun to be around, so much that you welcome her reappearances with a sigh of relief — where WERE you? — and you can't help but cheer when she proceeds to murder her lobster with a single, decapitating thwack of a cleaver.

Julie and Julia may share a love of good food and the belief that it can literally save a woman's life (from boredom, lovelessness, aimlessness, etc.) but their attitudes to cooking are separated by a great gulf: Julia Child cooked to service other cooks or anyone willing to work in the kitchen; Julie Powell in the movie ultimately comes off as the typical modern woman looking for stress relief in the form of personal blog fulfillment. Not that that's wrong, but the movie does highlight this difference: Julie had a little project going, but Julia had a vocation.


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