It must have been ten years ago, in August, 2003. I was having the car serviced in the automotive section of a big box retailer and I was reading the Wednesday New York Times food section. The cover story, by Amanda Hesser, told all about Julie Powell, her blog – at the time, I knew what a blog was, vaguely – and the near completion of her project to make each of the recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1.
The film, Julie and Julia, was written by Nora Ephron from her sources, Powell’s book Julie and Julia and Child’s autobiographical book My Life in France, written with her nephew Alex Prud’homme. Ephron directed the film, which starred Meryl Streep as Julia and Amy Adams as Julie, with Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina as their respective spouses. It was filmed from March through May, 2008, mostly on location in New York and Paris and in the studio in New York. It was released in July, 2009 in the United States. Cinematography was by Stephen Goldblatt. Music was by Alexandre Desplat. Production design, art direction and set design were by Mark Ricker, Ben Barraud and Susan Bode, with the costumes by Ann Roth. Food styling was by Susan Spungen, and the executive chef was Colin Flynn. The movie cost about $40 million and grossed over $129 million worldwide. Streep was nominated for a best actress Oscar.
Child was, memorably, 6’2” tall. Streep is 5’6”, so visual tricks such as lifts in her shoes, low camera angles and scaled down furniture were used to try to give the impression she was taller. Streep invited Tucci, an accomplished chef and cookbook author, over for dinner and they ended up preparing the meal together. In a joint interview Streep quoted Tucci as saying “’Why are you doing it that way? Is that what you’re going to do? I’m just asking. Why do you hold it that way? It’s OK, I can show you an easier way.’ Boom! It was out of my hands. He’s a great chef. I’m a cook.” Tucci responded, “It was a fun night. We didn’t eat until about 11.”
Kenneth Turan in the August 12, 2009 Los Angeles Times wrote about this picture “A consummate entertainment that echoes the rhythms and attitudes of classic Hollywood, it's a satisfying throwback to those old-fashioned movie fantasies where impossible dreams do come true.” Stephanie Zacharek of Salon commented on Streep’s performance as the television chef on August 7, 2009 thus: “Streep isn't playing Julia Child here, but something both more elusive and more truthful — she's playing our idea of Julia Child.” And A.O. Scott wrote in the August 6, 2009 New York Times “Julie and Julia proceeds with such ease and charm that its audacity — a no-nonsense, plucky self-confidence embodied by the indomitable Julia herself — is easy to miss. Most strikingly, this is a Hollywood movie about women that is not about the desperate pursuit of men. Marriage is certainly the context both of Julia’s story and of Julie’s . . . but it is not the point.” For me Julie and Julia is a charming diversion, and yes, it does have a refreshing message about women’s success that is totally at odds with the traditional script impulse to see the leading actress in the arms of the man by the end of the last reel. I hope you enjoy watching it with me tonight.