Friday, August 28, 2009

Julie and Julia (Rhoades)

“Julie & Julia” Offers A Double Helping

Every kitchen should have both volumes of Julia Child’s classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Although it’s the collaboration of three authors, the cookbook succeeded in catapulting Child into a long career as a television chef.

After working for the OSS during WWII, Julia Child married a US diplomat named Paul Cushing Child. A bon vivant with a fine palate, he introduced her to French cuisine when posted to Paris by the State Department. There she attended the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school as well as studying with several noted chefs, until finally (as her 1961 book put it) mastering the art of French cooking.

Later on, as a popular TV chef, her irrepressible personality and enthusiasm for food made her a household name.

You’ll learn about this in “Julie & Julia,” the new Nora Ephron comedy that’s playing at the Tropic Cinema.

As a matter of fact, you’ll get a double helping with this cinematic feast. Ephron based her script for the movie on not one, but two disparate sources. The first, of course, was Child’s biography, “My Life in France.” The second was a memoir by less-famous online blogger Julie Powell.

In 2002 Powell began a website that documented her attempt to cook all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” This humorous experiment was published as “Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,” but was re-titled as “Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously” for the paperback edition.

Director Nora Ephron adapted this into a screenplay. “Julie & Julia” is considered the first major motion picture based on an online blog.

The cast is marvelous: Amy Adams as Julie Powell, Meryl Streep as Julia Child, and Stanley Tucci as Julia’s husband.

Meryl Streep perfects the warbly voice and frizzy appearance of the film’s namesake. Seeing her go from being a svelte “Dancing Queen” in the recent “Mama Mia!” musical to the frumpy Child in “Julie & Julia” is a testament to her thespian range.

And Amy Adams offers a plausible and funny Julie. A fine acting job that reaffirms she can do humor (“Sunshine Cleaning” or “Night at the Museum 2”) as well as heavy drama (“Doubt”).

What did the real Julie Powell think of Adams’ performance?

“Julie Powell in the movie, she’s a fictional character. She’s much softer than I am, and she doesn’t curse nearly as much as I do, and – this is a nitpicky thing – perhaps doesn’t have the sense of self-awareness that was key to the blog and the book. Amy Adams is lovely, and I’m happy with it. She (the main character) is just not me. You have to go into it thinking, this is a Nora Ephron movie – not my book. Then you can enjoy it.”

Okay, fair enough. But moviegoers won’t know they softened the real-life Julie’s character, I promise you. You’ll laugh and be inspired and want to go out to a fine French dinner.

And what did the late Julia Child think of Powell’s little cooking experiment?

“I’d written her a letter,” says Powell. “The letter that I received back was cordial, and, I’m sure, typed up by her secretary. She was glad that she had been an inspiration to me, and that I was trying to learn to cook, and suggested an organization for aspiring chefs . . . It was kind of her to acknowledge my letter. She didn’t address the project ... but it meant so much more to me than learning to cook. It taught me a great deal about what I was capable of, how I could turn my life around.”

Julie Powell’s next book is called “Cleaving,” a chronicle of her six-month stint working in an upstate New York butcher shop. If Hollywood options it for a movie, let’s hope they don’t (are you ready?) butcher it.

[from Solares Hill]

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