Is there any group of people more obsessive and ridiculous about food than Americans? We think of food the way we think of sex: we are both giddy about it and repulsed by it. We can be puritanical about consumption and at the same time cram food down our gullet without a second thought. We eat more than the rest of the world, and we probably diet more than the rest of the world too. We attempt to conform to impossible standards set by the ladies at Vogue while we totter out to McDonald’s three times a week for our delicious, delicious quarter-pounder with cheese.
We like food, but rarely do we take real, true sensual pleasure in the act of making and eating our own meal. We eat on the road, while we Twitter something inane and flash our grease-laden middle finger at the guy we just cut off.
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci
Runtime: 123 minutes
Seen at: Loew’s Boston Common
“Julie & Julia” is about what eating is supposed to be like. This is evident from the first scene, where cooking powerhouse Julia Child (Meryl Streep) smells the fish she’s just been served and whispers, in absolute ecstasy, “Butter.”
That moment of bliss is what characterizes half of the film, a delightful, fresh view of Child’s life in Paris with her husband Paul (a wry and sweet-natured Stanley Tucci) who works at the American embassy. Streep is perfectly frothy as Child, reminding us again why she’s a living legend on the Hollywood scene. Instead of mocking the chef’s hulking stature and staccato voice, Streep characterizes her quirks as attributes of a strong, intensely-focused, sensual woman. Child was wonderful because she was both motherly and unwaveringly independent, everyone’s slightly hedonist auntie. Ephron, who’s never been a heavyweight in terms of dialogue has sparkling wit and verve in the Child scenes. The plot line may not be the most dramatic (will Child publish her book?) but the joy of cooking, and, by extension, living fully in the world, is heartily felt.
This half of the movie however, makes it all the more disappointing that the other half of the movie is so dry and flavorless (pun intended). The other half stars Amy Adams as Julie Powell, a struggling writer who abandoned her work for a steady, but low-level government job, and decides to blog her way through Child’s cookbook. I have loved Amy Adams since she first crashed the Hollywood party in her tender role in “Junebug,” but her Julie is a little boring, unrelateable and selfish in the most uninteresting way. Perhaps it’s prejudice, but I believe this is less Adams’ fault and more Ephrons’. Too often the writing resorts to having Julie pitch a fit or cry on the floor when things go wrong. Compared with Child’s intricate layers of joy, sadness and jealousy when she learns her sister is going to have a child, having Powell whine over the fact that she burned a casserole is pretty unwatchable.
When you think about it, it’s pretty unbelievable that nourishing our bodies has become one of our biggest stresses in life, or one of the things we overlook completely. We could all stand to learn from Julia Child, who believed that food (cooking it and eating it) was one of the ways to make ourselves purely happy for its own sake. Watching Meryl Streep channel her tornado of a personality made me remember to at least make more of an effort to taste and enjoy every bit of food I inhale on the train to work- regardless of how much butter was used.