Saturday, August 8, 2009


When I was around four years old or so, my favorite television shows included The Electric Company, Family Affair, That Girl... and The French Chef.

Back then, while in the kitchen one afternoon, I found myself describing my actions, just as Julia did, in a sing-songy voice, providing detailed instructions to an imagined television audience on making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (my palate wasn't that refined, as a kid).

It was very important -- I admonished my imagined audience -- to spread the peanut butter to the very edges of the bread, without sliding out over the crust.

And the jelly? On that, one mustn't skimp.

When I'd stumbled upon Julie Powell's blog, The Julie/Julia Project, back in 2002, I was enthralled by the concept of this former Texan working her way through Julia Child's cookbook. But even more so, I was taken in by her writing. Julie would weave in thoughts about her day, the frustrations she dealt with at work, the challenges the recipes gave her at the end of a long day. And observations on the progress of her project.

It was like life -- full of triumphs and tears, challenges and surprises. With a supportive husband who popped TUMs like after-dinner mints.

And when Powell's book came out in 2005, I opened the box from Amazon with all the excitement of Christmas morning. I devoured the book, and felt, disappointed.

She'd aligned her blog entries alongside vignettes of Paul and Julia Childs' life together, imagining conversations that seemed to me contrived and drippy with nostalgia. Honestly? I sped through those parts, hungrily seizing on Powell's observations about aspic and omelettes instead.

Last night, a friend and I went to see the movie Julie & Julia, and I was surprised at having the opposite experience. The scenes with Julie, aside from the obviously soul-crushing days at the Lower Manhattan Development Project, were thin and uninteresting. But those where you see how Julia came into her own as a chef and relish her relationship with her lovely husband Paul -- those scenes were magical.

Now, maybe that's because Nora Ephron knows how to throw pixie dust onto relationships and capture those moments on film in a heart-stirring way.

It might be Meryl Streep's superb embodiment of Julia. From the physical aspects of Julia's game and gangly enthusiasm, to the bleats and huffs of speech that inflated Julia's body, caused her arms to flap and body to collapse on a couch with gusto.

Or it could have something to do with Stanley Tucci's sublime performance as Paul, a man who is beyond smitten by Julia. He obviously worships her, craves and appreciates the art found in and made from life, relishes performance and flourish. As an actor, he is just amazing -- or maybe like Streep, he found a character he could inhabit, rather than play.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm making a list of ingredients for sole meuniere.


fishwithoutbicycle said...

I have read lots of similar comments about this movie, how the Julie parts are kind of blah, but the Julia bits are worth seeing. I think I will wait for this movie to come out on pay per view :-)

spandrel studios said...

It's a very charming summer movie -especially if you love Paris, and Meryl Streep makes it worth viewing! But the Julie part was definitely lacking... maybe it's because Nora Ephron could relate more to the Julia part?