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Tom Chaney: Someone's in the Kitchen with Julia

Of Writers And Their Books: Someone's in the Kitchen with Julia. Tom reviews Julie & Julia, a 2009 movie based on Child's memoir My Life in France and on Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. This column first appeared 16 August 2009.
The next earlier Tom Chaney column: James Lee Burke

By Tom Chaney

Someone's in the Kitchen with Julia

I went to the movies on a recent Saturday night. Haven't been too often since I escaped the wiles of Philadelphia in 1994. I just got out of the habit, plus there are so many books to read.

But I did want to see Julie & Julia, which opened this past weekend. There's been a lot of hype about it lately, and I had a tenuous 'hammy' Hart County connection with that magnificent chef Julia Child. If you want to know more about that, check out my column from November 6, 2005, which I know you have in your file.

I don't do thumbs up with movies. I just spread my fingers apart with a five for the highest rating and remove first thumb, then little finger, then ring finger, then index finger until but one finger remains for the lowest rating.

"J & J" gets almost four fingers up.

This movie is based on Child's memoir My Life in France and on Julie Powell's Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. The two story threads merge into a fabric much as if one wove the piece with a warp of burlap and a woof of fine silk.

The silken thread is that of the life of Julia Child who fetched up in Paris in 1949 with her husband Paul Child, on diplomatic post with the department of state. Julia, played by Meryl Streep, searches for a way to occupy herself. She enrolls in the Cordon Bleu culinary course and creates, with friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle, their Mastering the Art of French Cooking over an eight year period.

The burlap warp is the story of Julie Powell, an unfulfilled government clerk in New York played by Amy Adams, who seeks to avoid ennui by preparing all 524 recipes in Child's book in the space of one year. She recounts her year on one of those 'blogs' which seem to snake their ugly arms out of the computer to grab the unwary by the throat if one does not take care.

The exciting aim of Child and her co-authors was to present to American cooks a way to master French cooking at home -- swimming upstream against the tide of mixes and shortcuts which was flowing with increasing force into American home kitchens.

The book was made popular in part by Child's cooking show on public television. There we all met the ebullient character which was Julia Child; laughed with her kitchen skill and foibles; and salivated over her food. Rare the serious cook in the 1960's who failed to try Child's exquisite Boeuf Bourguignon.

Streep does a fine job of impersonating rather than caricaturing the 6'2" Child. She acts tall. And her acting is enhanced by deft camera work.

The relative weight of the two threads is uneven. As a British reviewer noted, we "know that director Nora Ephron hasn't got the balance quite right, however, when we leave blogger Julie Powell at a point of great excitement -- yet find we have largely lost interest in the identity of her mystery dinner guest when we return to her story. In the meantime, we have been savouring meaty scenes from the life of the great Julia Child."

The exuberance of Child and the carefully knitted character of husband Paul overshadow the tale of Julie and her husband. Yet it is the Julie Powell story which provides the impetus for the movie thus enabling us to enjoy Julia Child yet again.

The Julie plot -- a happy-ever-after tale bringing democratic success to any blogger who merely perseveres -- is somewhat blunted by Child's dismissive reaction to the expression of Julie's adulation. The relationship between the famous achiever and the unknown fan is somewhat explored. That idea deserves fuller treatment.

Julie's cooking all the 524 recipes perfected by Julia does not necessarily place her on a par with Julia. Yet the tale of Julie provides an excellent reason to revisit the exuberant Julia Child once more.

I watched Julie and Julia with a friend I happened to meet in the lobby. My pleasure in watching the flick with her made a good movie better.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at
Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749
Email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2014-08-17 04:25:41
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