Saturday, August 8, 2009

Julie & Julia

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Meryl Streep Channels Julia Child in Bifurcated Bio-Pic

Julia Child (1912-2004) is generally credited with introducing the high culinary arts to the average American kitchen via her encyclopedic, 734-page opus “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” The beloved best-seller was first published in 1961 to critical acclaim due to the comprehensive and effortless fashion in which it made fine French cuisine readily accessible to the average American palate.

Thus, it was no surprise that less than two years later the exuberant, if refined author would be sharing her unpretentious approach to cooking on her own TV show, “The French Chef.” And between her towering, 6’2” tall physique and her distinctive, WASPy warble, the seminal PBS series soon turned her into a readily-recognizable celebrity.

Perhaps foremost among Julia’s admirers over the ensuing decades was Julie Powell, a young gourmet who decided to spice up her marriage by preparing every recipe in her idol’s classic cookbook. But Julie was also a frustrated writer who had tired of the daily commute from Queens to an unsatisfying secretarial job in lower Manhattan, especially since most of her friends were already enjoying flourishing professional careers.

When Julie subsequently began posting a running commentary on her blog about each dish she prepared, lo and behold, her website blossomed into a popular internet destination with a steady stream of devoted readers. She eventually interested a publisher in turning her electronic journal entries into “Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,” a book which recounted her astounding culinary feat alongside intimate reflections about her personal life.

Julie & Julia, directed by Nora Ephron, is a bifurcated bio-pic interweaving events in Powell’s tome with those revealed in “My Life in France,“ a memoir chronicling Child’s seminal postwar period in Paris spent honing her craft in cooking classes at the famed Cordon Bleu. The legendary Meryl Streep delivers yet another incomparable performance here, humanizing the imperious Child, her trademark accent and all, in an alternatively playful and vulnerable portrayal which never slips into caricature.

Her half of the film opens in 1949 and serves up an array of anticipated mouth-watering gustatory delights alongside a tenderhearted love story about the late-blooming wallflowes and her adoring, attentive husband (Stanley Tucci). The other strand of the picture, set in New York in the 2002, features comestibles as well as an equally-touching relationship between Julie and her frequently-flabbergasted hubby (Chris Messina).

Although it’s a tad disappointing that the parallel plotlines fail to intersect, at least each is a thoroughly-engaging on its own, and together they ultimately add up to refreshingly-charming take on an enduring cultural icon and a lady now likely to go down in history as her #1 fan.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for sensuality and brief profanity.

Running time: 123 minutes

Studio: Columbia Pictures

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