Utterly, butterly delicious
The secret ingredient of great cooking is never a herb, or an oil, or a particular kind of juicy flesh. It’s the joy of the cook in cooking it—his little risks and tweaks. In India, we make this intangibility sacrosanct by calling it “maa ka haath” or “daadi ke haath”.
In director Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, that joy is for you to see, laugh at and long for. If you love cooking, or want to love it, don’t miss this sweet film.
Ephron is known for her romantic comedies: When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail—they’re some people’s comfort movies. This one is similar. The story breezes by, with some tender, some quirky moments, and in the end you walk out smiling.
But what takes Julie & Julia a notch above the others is Meryl Streep’s performance. She is Julia Child, the celebrated chef who taught Americans how to cook French food—a very tall, slightly ponderous and irrepressibly bubbly woman who speaks with a sing-song drawl. She begins cooking in war-torn France in 1946 because she has “nothing to dooooo!”
Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, a failed writer in the New York of 2002. She is listless at her clerical job and decides to make herself useful by cooking all the recipes in Julia Child’s famous cookbook. She blogs about her year-long culinary adventure. Julie and Julia’s stories have some similarities—for example, both have supportive husbands sensitive to their wilfulness and ambitions—but are not comparable in depth or scope. That makes the film oddly forced at times.
Julie & Julia opens with Julie moving into Queens with her husband Eric (Chris Messina). She is trapped in her job as a telephone counsellor to victims of the World Trade Center attacks. The only saving grace, her husband, a magazine editor, encourages her to start a blog, about her experiences of cooking Julia’s recipes.
Julia’s story unfolds in another era and another colour scheme. It is post-World War II France. Julia’s husband, Paul Child (Stanley Tucci), is a diplomat who has worked in China earlier and is an easy target of McCarthy-style investigations. They start life together in Paris with great joie de vivre. They make new friends and have a busy social life. But after a while, Julia gets bored. She tries dabbling in this and that before enrolling at Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. The lady manager of Cordon Bleu is patronizing; this fires up Julia. She competes with glum and stodgy Frenchmen, thus embarking on a journey of discovery. She struggles to publish a book of her recipes, and eventually finds success.
Both the stories are classic American—the middle-class desire for success and how, with just some effort, it’s achievable. But the scope of Julia’s story is much bigger. An endearingly unconventional American woman in France in the 1940s, a husband who indulges her whims and supports her unwaveringly, and showing stiff Parisians how to get by with imperfections and make it look charming—the humour, pathos and underlying politics is like the rich stuffing Julia sews her turkey up with. Streep is remarkably in character—and not just physically. She manages to strike the perfect balance between the caricature-like mannerisms of the character and its inherent pathos. Tucci is a fine actor. Together, Tucci and Streep deserved to have an entire Julia film.
Julie’s story has the uncomfortable ring of truth for us. Modern-day marriages, dictated more by job, money, space and technology, are by nature uninspiring in the conventional sense. Ephron doesn’t try very hard to extract much out of it either. She is more interested in depicting how the two couples are different, and she is obviously biased towards the older one. For both women, sex and food keep their lives afloat, but while Julie goes through dry spells because she is too caught up in cooking, for Julia and Paul, food is always the appetizer for sex.
The women never meet; their love affair with the meunière is what finally binds them together. Julie & Julia is one of the most delightful movies around at the moment; don’t miss it.
Julie & Julia released in theatres in Mumbai, Pune and Goa on Friday. The release date for other cities is yet to be finalized.