“Julie & Julia” is a movie about connections. There are the connections between Julia Child and her husband Paul, her collaborator Simone Beck, her sister Dorothy, and her pen pal Avis; the connections between Julie Powell and her husband Eric, her best friend Sarah, and the one that forms between her and her ever-growing audience. But it’s the connection between Julie and Julia–two very different women who never met in real life–that forms the heart of this movie, a movie that’s been covered to death, but a movie to which I, myself, felt a profound connection.
From the opening scene, with Julia Child at a cafe in Paris, losing her soul to sole meuniere, to the final shot of the movie (SPOILER ALERT!) where Julia’s kitchen at the Smithsonian comes back to life–with Julia tearing into a package, and pulling out the first printing of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”–I had a big fat smile plastered on my face.
This is a joyous, joyful movie. It’s got flaws–few movies don’t–but what this movie gets right, it really gets right. It captures the zest and flair with which Julia Child experienced the world, the big, bountiful delight she took in everything, from slurping an oyster to throwing a party. With the exception of “Happy Go Lucky”, I can’t think of a modern movie with such a relatable, life-loving character at its center. There’s nothing hokey about this Julia–she’s no Polyanna (she likens hot manicotti to a “stiff cock”)–and it’s her humor that rounds out her character, that makes her such a winning force.
The Julie segment, as many have already said, is certainly lacking. Much of this has to do with the narrative structure: Julia Child is on a mission to write one of the most important cookbooks in the history of publishing, Julie Powell is on a mission to blog for a year. I also think Amy Adams is miscast as Julie Powell. Having met and interviewed Julie (listen here), Amy Adams is too soft and breathy. Julie Powell is sassy and salty; I would’ve preferred Zoey Deschanel or Parker Posey or Flo from “Alice,” you know, the one who says “kiss my grits.”
But it’s easy to overlook the importance of the Julie Powell half of this film–it’s not just a gimmick, this cutting back-and-forth. The Julie Powell character is a stand-in for all of us who’ve found ourselves stuck in life’s cul-de-sac, who craved nourishment–both literally and figuratively–and who, through the guidance of such a life-affirming force as Julia Child, restored ourselves by stirring and salting, by tasting and savoring something delicious that took hours of our time.
The connection between Julie and Julia is the connection between hospital patient and IV. The Julies of the world (and I count myself among them) need the Julias to inspire us, to invigorate us, to wake us up to life’s great pleasures. I remember vividly coming home from law school, back before I started this blog, completely drained and miserable and unsure of myself, and discovering Sara Moulton on Food Network. I’d never really cooked before, or showed any interest in cooking, but somehow Sara woke me up to the world of the kitchen. (It’s probably not a coincidence that Sara spent years working with Julia.) This story–the story of a lost soul led out of the wilderness by a spiritual guide–is one of the oldest stories in existence. The only thing new here is the way the story’s told and the subject matter. Julie Powell is Dante and Julia Child is Virgil; Powell is Luke Skywalker and Child is Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Julie half makes the movie what it is, it lends it its weight; it reveals why Julia Child’s work was important, because it demonstrates how her hard work—work that many would dismiss as relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things (I wouldn’t, but many would)—is indeed important because this work, this job of teaching others how to cook well and eat well, is work that not only improves lives, it saves them. Mine included.