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Movie Review: Julie & Julia (PG-13)

Can’t talk. Reviewing.

A treat of a tale for foodies and others

If I really wanted to be a famous film critic—although not very well-respected—I’d write “I savored every moment of this delicious film!” And then you’d see that quote on the commercial, and when you bought the DVD, there it would be on the front, with my name in tiny little letters underneath it.

Good thing I wouldn’t write like that.

Even though I really want to.

Because Julie & Julia is a wonderful, wonderful movie—it’s funny and warm and lovely, with a sense of fun and a real heart that I haven’t seen in the theater in recent memory. Granted, I don’t see a lot of movies since I have a baby, but still.

Julia Child (Meryl Streep) has arrived in France with her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci). Paul has a high-profile assignment with the American embassy and the two have a lovely apartment—although the bed is a bit short for the 6’2” Julia. Child walks by ancient churches on her way to farmer’s markets; meanwhile, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) leaves her Queens apartment above a pizzeria and walks past the site of the World Trade Center to a job she doesn’t really like, filling insurance claims for victims of September 11.

Powell, who has no formal training as a chef, decides to cook through Child’s seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year and blog about it. The story then switches back and forth between Julia attempting to write the book and Powell attempting to handle dishes such as beouf bourguignon and aspic—the latter of which involves boiling a calf’s food to make meat Jell-O. Yum!

Cooking is a metaphor in so many films, and there’s a reason for that. In Big Night, two brothers try to find the balance between assimilation in a new culture and the fact that real Italian cooking doesn’t stop with spaghetti and red sauce. In Eat Drink Man Woman, food is how a repressed father shows love and celebrates family. In Like Water for Chocolate, food is literally magical. And there’s a reason that all these films work (and make you hungry; seriously, have you seen Big Night? Watch it and then see if you don’t attempt to find a way to mainline risotto.)

Director Nora Ephron is known for relationship films—some very good, some… not very good (she did both When Harry Met Sally and Hanging Up) and Julie & Julia certainly plays to her strengths. But the relationship here is between Julia, Julie and the food that they love. And, since food is a comforting constant to those who enjoy it, it’s a healthy relationship. It’s giving and warm and caring.

Moreover, married life actually looks good in the movie. There is no real angst. The two couples are very much in love and enjoy one another. In fact, this is a happy movie about happy people who handle their problems like grownups. Well, most of the time—at one point Adams sinks to the ground, crying over a chicken. But who among us hasn’t done that? And, in spite of the fact that there is no tortured, unrequited love; no tearful reunions in the rain; no wondering “is he going to call?”—or, perhaps, because of all this—the movie is still interesting. The people are fun to watch. The dialogue is natural. The food all looks really, really good.

The acting is stellar. One expects Streep to be excellent. But she absolutely transforms into Julia Child, bringing the woman so many of us only know from old reruns to life. Streep communicates more by wordlessly walking by a baby carriage than most actors can do with dictionaries of dialogue. Adams is adorably believable (though I’m pretty sure I gained more weight watching the movie than her character did throughout her butter-laden journey). Stanley Tucci’s Paul shares the screen gracefully with Streep, letting her lead but never being overshadowed.

There is very little objectionable material. A few s-words (that darn aspic!), a few b-words. At one point Child observes that cannelloni pasta, pulled right from the water, is as hot as male genitalia (it’s one of the funniest moments in the film, because one just doesn’t think of Julia Child as knowing said word, which rhymes with “rock.”) There are married makeout sessions, but the most nudity you see is Adams in her bra with her back to the camera and, later, in a nighshirt and pantsless.

Moreover, Julia would be a worthy role model to any girl. Vibrant and ambitious, she fills the frame, literally and figuratively. In fact, if your daughter is taller than her peers, please be sure to see this movie. The scene of Julia and her sister, both tall, dancing with their (shorter) husbands and blissfully in love, is something I know I would have appreciated when I was 5’5″ and in the fifth grade.

Happy people in happy marriages doing happy things—who would have thought it would make a tasty dish of a movie?

Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family Magazine. She writes about cooking at her Cookin’ With Mama blog.

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