Monday, September 5, 2011

Movie Review: Julie & Julia

The 2009 film Julie & Julia (PG-13), directed by Nora Ephron, is unquestionably a foodie film. Meryl Streep and Amy Adams play two women in different time periods struggling with finding their personal identity and self fulfillment through cooking. As a foodie myself, this really resonated with me. The film could be considered a “chick flick.” However, the cliché tropes that chick flicks all seem to have in common are more of minor story elements on the sidelines rather than the whole story itself.
The movie has two stories being told simultaneously. Julia Child (Meryl Streep) is trying to find fulfillment in life instead of simply being a housewife in France. She discovers her love of cooking at the Cordon Bleu Academy in Paris, and proceeds to take on the insurmountable task of publishing a French cook book in English for Americans. Julia Powell (Amy Adams) is working in a cubicle at a stressful job she doesn’t like, and gets the idea to blog about cooking every recipe in Julia Child’s book within a year. Both women already enjoy cooking; Julia enjoys cooking for her husband and Julie uses cooking as a means of stress relief. Then they find a way to use this already existing talent they had not given much attention to before to attain greater fulfillment. It is fascinating how these women’s experiences are developed to have so many parallels. Julie has the occasional meltdown when the recipes fail or events in her life keep her from cooking the recipes. Julia has to face some sexism and discrimination for being American in a French cooking school as well as rejections from publishers. The drama comes in when each woman encounters bigger and bigger opposition but remain true to their commitments to themselves.
Of course you want both to succeed, but if Julia doesn’t succeed, then Julie will never get the book Julia is writing and still be trapped in her miserable situation. This creates an interesting dynamic in the story’s chronology. Of course you know that Julia Child will succeed in part because she is such a renowned figure in culinary arts and a television personality that you, the viewers, are probably familiar with. Also, Julie’s story could not be happening if Julia hadn’t eventually succeeded. That doesn’t keep you from sympathizing with Julia’s losses and letdowns and hoping she makes it through. Anyone who’s ever had a crappy job or had a dish they were putting a lot of time and effort into explode in their face can sympathize with Julie. Each of the characters’ personalities and problems are so believable and relatable that you can’t help but feel a connection to them. Julie and Julia characters are so well written and acted out that you can’t help but fall in love them. Also, Meryl Streep mimicking of Julia Child’s distinctive mannerisms and voice is uncanny and highly entertaining.
Another thing I was highly impressed with was the set designs. Much of Julia Child’s story takes place in France. Upon hearing the director’s commentary on the Blu-Ray, only a few parts were actually filmed in France, the rest were filmed in American locations (like New Jersey) that had French-like architecture. These sets were so seamlessly integrated with the actual French locations that you would never have known that some of the France scenes weren’t actually filmed in France.  Julie’s story takes place in Queens, New York City, and mostly in her apartment. Julie’s kitchen is prohibitively small and not the ideal place to cook fine French cuisine. The apartment is said to be 900 square feet, and it really feels that way. Most everything in the apartment feels cramped and confining; it really helps sell Julie’s desire to break free from her life constraining circumstances.
Julie & Julia was a good movie with endearing characters, great visuals, and a believable story that I think anyone could relate to. You don’t need to be a foodie or have a passion for cooking to enjoy it. I thought this was an inspiring story about getting out of the mundane doldrums of life, finding your passion, and embracing it with abandon. I recommend this movie to anyone in a similar situation, who likes a good dramatic movie, or who enjoys a good “foodie film.” Bon appétit!

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