‘Julie & Julia’: Mastering the Art of Canned Soup

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Apparently, Julia Child was merely nonplussed by the news that some young thing in Queens was blogging her way to fame and fortune by whipping up every last mousse and tarte in Child’s masterwork, Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and then writing about it.
Whereas she must be folle furieuse in eternity over the dreadful movie that’s come of smooshing their two stories together, with a result that’s more Mock Mayonnaise (Betty Crocker’s Cookbook,” page 302) than Sauce Béarnaise (MtAoFC,” page 84.)
OK, maybe the fact that the movie has finally made her cookbook a No. 1 best-seller for the first time this week, nearly half a century after it was first published in 1961, would put her in a forgiving mood.
But here’s the thing about “Julie & Julia,which I saw with my daughter this weekend: I never for a single second forgot I was watching a movie. And it lacked even a smidge of the eccentricity or any sign of the kind of stubborn choices that (along with great recipes well explained) made Julia Child the culinary revolutionary Julie Powell wanted to model herself after.
I only like Meryl Streep, instead of loving her the way everyone else seems to, but I don’t think this was her fault, even if she did play Child like some manic drunk, careening around Paris screaming at all moments. (And if I bought Amy Adams as a real-life fairy-tale princess in Enchanted,” well then I hardly think the problem could have been her inability to stretch for the role of a common, ordinary narcissist who by her own account didn’t so much want to write — or cook, for that matter — as she wanted a gimmick that would make her famous.)
No, the problem was in Nora Ephron’s directing — under which, now that I think about it, everyone in the picture was frantic — yum, food! yum, sex! yum-yum, foodie sex! — and so anxious not to bore us that no small surprise or authentic moment ever stood a chance. By taking no chances, she left no room for the unexpected, and thus wound up with a movie that’s missing the very thing Julia used to tell home cooks they had to summon: “You must have the courage of your convictions!”
Were there no pleasures? Sure there were: Julie’s mom, whom we never even see, is funny as hell on the phone, calling from Texas to warn her girl that she is gonna make herself sick with all that blogging. Julia’s French co-writers steal every scene they’re in, with lines like “She is such a beech!” — which I personally am not above laughing at. I also found myself coveting J & J’s pearls, and when Julie’s final, celebratory Julia-inspired meal is served, enjoyed a brief reverie about Babette’s Feast.”
I know you Streep fans probably liked her shrieking more than I did — and clearly, since 22,000 copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking” were sold just last week, many who saw the movie rushed home from the theater all primed to cook something difficult and buttery. But posthumous book sales notwithstanding, did any of you think this was the movie Child deserved? Or does the new interest in her from the salad-in-a-bag generation — not that her tuna casserole era was much better — make that a moot point?

 

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