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Review and competition: Julie & Julia

Posted on February 25, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia

Amy Adams in Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia DVD and bookStarring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci
Writer/Director: Nora Ephron
Price: £19.99 (Amazon price: £12.98)
Released: March 8th 2010

Calling all foodies! Slight departure from the normal TMINE fare, I know, but I refuse to be confined to one little box - here's your chance to win a copy of Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as famous US TV chef (ah, see the TMINE link now?) and writer Julia Child and Amy Adams (you know, off Enchanted, Sunshine Cleaning et al) as a blogger who tries to make all the recipes in Childs' magnum opus Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year.

Review and competition details after the trailer.

Plot
A culinary legend provides a frustrated office worker with a new recipe for life in Julie & Julia, the true stories of how Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) life and cookbook inspired fledgling writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams) to whip up 524 recipes in 365 days and introduce a new generation to the magic of French cooking. Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada) co-stars in director Nora Ephron’s delicious comedy about joy, obsession and butter. Bon appétit!

Is it any good?
The movie is actually based on two books, one by Julia Child describing how she became a Cordon Bleu cook in France, the other by blogger Julie Powell, describing her experiences of following Julia Child's recipe book for a year. Since the stories are set on two different continents and are separated by more than 40 years, the movie jumping between them - think Sleepless and Seattle, another Nora Ephron movie, for the movie's general structure - we almost have two movies here.

Each of these movies is reasonably well handled by writer/director Nora Ephron. The more interesting of the two strands is Child's, with Meryl Streep giving an incredibly accurate performance as Child - if you're British and don't know her, think the US equivalent of Fanny Craddock or a cross between Delia Smith and Keith Floyd. Or watch this YouTube clip of her in action:

We learn about how Child came to France - her husband, Paul, was a US diplomat - why she started to learn Cordon Bleu cooking, how she was approached to write a book about French cooking for Americans, and how it eventually came to be published.

The second strand mostly sees Adams, a failed novelist who works in a cubicle post-9/11 trying to help people who have lost loved ones or been injured as a result of the attacks on New York. To get back into writing, she takes up blogging and since she always gives up at everything, she commits to a deadline of one year to make all of Julia Child's recipes.

Themes
The movie is essentially about women 'finding themselves'. Child needs something to do while her husband is working, and sadly the baby she wants so badly never arrives. She discovers she loves food, and decides to learn to cook. She can't find a book in English that teaches French cooking so she enrolls herself on a course; soon, she's running her own course together with two Frenchwomen she meets - who are trying to write a book for Americans about French cooking.

Powell feels like a failure compared to her friends, who all have high-flying jobs; one even has a blog that's being turned into a Showtime TV series. Envious, she starts up her own blog, and through it, learns not only how to cook, but also how much she loves her husband. Eventually, she gets famous and she ends up writing that book she always wanted to write.

In common with other Ephron films, the movie is also about women's relationships, both with women and men. Unlike in other Ephron movies - and whether it's because this is based on real-life stories, rather than Ephron's own imagination, or for some other reason - the relationships women have with women are far more antagonistic and lacking in nurturing support than usual, and the relationships the two women have with their husbands is far nicer and more supportive. Child and her co-authors squabble about who should get more credit on the books, because one of their number isn't pulling her weight; Powell's mother is constantly belittling her, her friends look down on her and she gets stitched up by an article written by a female journalist friend of hers.

By contrast, Child's husband (Tucci) is endlessly supportive and patient, encourages her to follow her dreams and even ends up building a custom kitchen for her to cope with her 6'2" height; Powell's husband is almost as tolerant, listening to her fears and worries and supporting her throughout. If there is a real theme for the movie overall, it's "all you need is love", whether that's love for your partner or love for cooking.

Ephron is also someone who likes to write about writers - most of her movies feature journalists either as central characters or friends of the central character. For anyone who's ever blogged, the feelings Powell espouses about blogging will be familiar: the fear no one's reading, the discipline needed to write regularly, the worry that people might be relying on you and, of course, the distant hope you'll end up getting read by people who can give you lots of money - or at least a little bit.

Comedy-drama?
Maybe it's the fact these are based on true stories that make this a less satisfying movie than you might hope. There are some funny lines and some poignant and some delightful moments. The performances are excellent and yes, there is actual location footage of both New York and Paris to enjoy (as well a few shots clearly not in either city, but they're few and far between).

But there's no real reason for the two separate stories to be stuck together. It doesn't say anything new. The two stories, despite Ephron's best efforts, don't really mirror each other - Child definitely did transform American cooking with her book, but can the same be said about Powell's blobblog/book? There are no conclusions drawn. Child's story finishes when her book is published - we never see her get her TV show, learn about the book's reception or how its reception affected her. Powell's story finishes when her year of cooking has passed. It's merely two biopics stuck together and ending at arbitrary points.

Nevertheless, it's enjoyable and even heart-warming, if a little longer than it needs to be given the story choices made. And it should give bloggers hoping to get published heart at least.

Rating: 3.5/5

DVD bonuses
Languages: English, Italian
Subtitles: English (hard of hearing), English, Danish, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: There's a commentary track by Nora Ephron, as well as a "Making Of" documentary.

The competition
Yes, you, gentle reader, now have the chance to win Julie & Julia on DVD. In fact, you also get the chance to win the accompanying limited edition Penguin book which includes 30 recipes from Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. All you have to do to enter the competition is leave a comment below before 11.59pm GMT on March 4th (you can leave a comment below anyway, but if you don't want to enter the competition, let me know!) and using the mighty power of the Internet random number generator, I'll pick a winner. Bear in mind that the DVD is Region 2, but if you live outside Europe, I'm still willing to send it to you if you reckon you can play it.

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