Movie Mom

“Julie & Julia” is — I can’t help it — a scrumptiously satisfying film about writer/director Nora Ephron’s two favorite subjects: food and marriage.It is based on two true stories. Julia Child revolutionized American notions about food with her cookbook and PBS series that brought haute cuisine to the “servantless” American housewife in the early 1960’s. Cookbooks and magazines in those days had recipes that included canned peas and crushed potato chips. But Child (Meryl Streep), newly settled in Paris with her diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) fell in love with the fresh, subtle, deeply sensual quality of French cooking and decided to study at the Cordon Bleu. She was an unlikely epicure and an even more unlikely spokeswoman, over six feet tall and with a rather horsey quality, a voice with a trill that made her sound like a cross between Eleanor Roosevelt and Miss Francis of the Ding-Dong School. But she was passionate, knowledgeable, accessible, and completely fearless. She boned a duck with knives that could slice through granite and scooped up food from the floor and put it back on the plate, crisply assuring her audience that it was all right because no one could see them in the kitchen. Americans fell in love with boeuf bourguignon, chocolate mousse, and with Julia, too. Half a century later, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) was in need of some of Julia’s resolute forthrightness. While her “cobb salad lunch” friends made million-dollar deals on their cell phones, Julie had a half-finished novel and a job answering the phone in a cubicle, listening to the problems of people seeking help with their 9/11-related injuries and losses. She and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) lived in a tiny, dingy apartment over a pizza place, with a handkerchief-sized kitchen. But Julie wanted to do something big and important. She wanted to finish something. And so she decided to work her way through Julia’s famous cookbook, to take on every recipe including deboning a duck, to do it all in one year, and to do it in public, on the then-novel outlet of a blog. Both Julie and Julia were drawn to the literally hands-on nature of cooking, the sense of purpose and mastery, and the generosity of it. Ephron’s screenplay, based on memoirs by each of its main characters, touches on the parallels without overdoing it. And one of the sweetest is the rare portrayal of tender, devoted, and, yes, very passionate married love, even more palpably luscious than the abbondanza array of diet-busting delicacies.It is the Julia story that is the heart of this film and it is Meryl Streep who is at the heart of this story. A little bit of movie magic makes the 5’6″ actress tower over her co-stars and even the furniture. But it is sheer, once-to-a-planet acting that makes Child so touching and inspiring. No one is more adorable than Amy Adams, and she wrinkles her little nose and throws her little tantrums as a twinkly romantic movie heroine must. But Streep as Child is revelatory, real, and irresistible. In one scene, when she responds to some good news from her sister (wonderfully played by Jane Lynch), the mixture of emotions that cross Streep’s face in a moment tell us of decades of pain. In another, as the Childs and their friends celebrate Valentine’s Day, we see an expression of love and trust so deep and enduring and joyous and sexy that it makes most expressions of movie romance feel like whipped cream made with skim milk and fake sugar.This is a movie about food and love and courage and dreams and lots and lots of butter, and doing something — cooking or acting — brilliantly and with gusto. And it is delicious, nourishing, and good to the last drop. Parents should know that this film has several swear words (s-words, one f-word) and a brief crude reference to a part of the body. There are sexual references and non-explicit sexual situations. Topics for discussion: How did cooking help to make the lives of the characters more meaningful? What do we learn from Julia’s reaction to her sister’s news? What did Julie learn from Julia’s reaction to her blog? How important to both women was the support of their husbands? And try making some of the recipes.If you like this try: “Heartburn,” another Ephron story about food and marriage, and “Big Night,” another movie about food starring Tucci. And read the books, Mastering The Art of French Cooking and Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously.

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