Those who know me, know that I’m a foodie. That’s different from being an eater. An eater eats to live; I live to eat. An eater eats until he is full and then some; I always save a little room for the next thing, whatever it may be. I look forward to my next taste, which hopefully involves chocolate. My motto in life comes from the Italian food classic Big Night (1996): "To eat good food is to be close to God."
I saw the movie Julie & Julia this week. If you’re an eater, you probably won’t get it. If you don’t know you’re way around the kitchen, you won’t even be interested. This is for foodies. The movie is about Julia Child, who brought French cooking to American kitchens and pioneered cooking on television. Almost single-handedly, she laid the foundation for what would later blossom into the Food Network with all its celebrity cooks. Before Alice Waters and Giada de Laurentiis and Mario Batali, there was Julia Child.
The movie depicts the 2002 attempt of Julie Powell, a writer and office worker who lives in Queens, to cook her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and blog about it on salon.com. 365 days and 536 recipes. The plot parallels Julie in her “crappy outer borough kitchen” with Julia at the Cordon Bleu in Paris in the 1950’s against the backdrop of McCarthy-era politics.
Meryl Streep has a singular genius for accents and mimicry and can push a character to almost dizzying heights. She plays a caricaturized version of Julia Child, enhanced by high heels and wedged shoes, that fills the screen with exuberance. As always, Amy Adams is her crushingly adorable self as a sanitized version of the real Julie Powell, who seemed to drop F-bombs about every third sentence in her blog, causing Julia Child ultimately to dismiss it. Julia Child’s husband Paul is played by actor and writer Stanley Tucci, who played Secundo in Big Night (1996), and is marvelously understated as the adoring husband of his effervescent Julia.
The plot runs thin and choppy at times, switching back and forth between Julie and Julia. The food styling is superb, intentionally designed to look as though an amateur cook had prepared it. I would have liked to see more of it, however. We’re talking Julia Child, 536 recipes and we get boeuf bourguignon twice? Also, I hate to be a snob, but red wine with fish and white wine with duck? Come on. Someone, please call in a wine consultant before my taste buds explode.
Flaws aside, this is a gem of a movie about life, love, and food and how they are inextricably bound together. Food is not about calories, fat grams, carbs, and nutrition, but about living and loving and celebrating with our senses the joy of being human. God didn’t join taste and smell together for nothing. I especially appreciated the tender depictions of marital love in this movie. People who are passionate about food tend to be passionate about life and love, reminding me that we all need to spend much more time at the table together. As foodie-theologian Robert Farrar Capon notes, married life is all about bed and board.
In the end, when the credits roll, this is a fun, light-hearted foodie film worth seeing after dinner, though I would not number it among the greats such as Babbette’s Feast (1987). I still laughed uncontrollably at Dan Ackroyd’s classic Saturday Night Live spoof of Jullia Child, which easily ranks in the top ten of SNL skits of all time. I left with a smile on my face, a bit of passion in my heart, and an intense desire for a piece of dark chocolate cake with a cup of good, strong French-roast coffee.