There’s something about good food – it cuts across every conceivable barrier to unite people. And this is exactly what happens in the 2009 film Julie and Julia, an ode to the connective power of food, uniting two women from vastly different eras and backgrounds.
Julie and Julia is a true story that is portrayed in two parallel story lines. One follows the early career days of iconic American chef Julia Child and the other is of present-day New Yorker Julie Powell, on a 365-day challenge to cook all 524 dishes from the latter’s cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
The film flits between past and present, between 1950’s France, and modern-day New York in 2002. We are presented with an extremely enthusiastic and effusive Julia Child, who has recently relocated to Paris with her husband and has enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu. Much to everybody’s chagrin, she is the only woman in the class and they all doubt her skills and abilities. Soon she begins collaborating with her classmates Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle on a cookbook introducing American housewives to classic French cookery.
Cut to New York 2002, Julie Powell is a disgruntled government employee, who yearns for something different to do in life. She embarks on the mammoth task of recreating all 524 recipes from Julia Child’s acclaimed cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and starts documenting it on a blog called The Julie/Julia Project. (yes, the same cookbook Julia Child was working on. It was eventually published!)
The film follows Julie’s misadventures in the kitchen, where we see the project taking over her life, one recipe at a time. She struggles with lobsters for Lobster Thermidor, is reduced to a crying mess over a failed aspic and enthusiastically cooks for friends. But her mother is deeply critical of this project as she thinks it is a waste of time. Once Julie’s blog starts getting noticed, a New York Times food reviewer invites herself over to dinner, and here’s where my favourite scene in the film lies.
Julie attempts to make boeuf bourguignon (Burgundy Beef Stew), a classic French dish. But the plan fails spectacularly since she sleeps through the timer, set for switching off the oven to brown the pieces of beef. After a harrowing ordeal, the reviewer calls to say that she is cancelling due to bad weather, by which time Julie has already painstakingly made another batch. It reminded me of my early days, of time-consuming recipe trials that I just couldn’t seem to perfect!
After Julia’s dismissive comments about her blog stating that it was just another publicity stunt, Julie is disappointed, but nevertheless celebrates with her friends, cooking the last recipe, Canard en Croute (Boned Duck stuffed and baked in a puff pastry).
The last scene of the film is a memorable one when Julie and her husband visit Julia’s original preserved kitchen at the Smithsonian Museum in New York. While Julie places a slab of butter below a portrait of Julia as a tribute to her, the scene cuts to Julia celebrating with her husband in the same kitchen so many years ago after receiving a book deal for Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Directed by Nora Ephron, this film is adapted from two books: My Life in France, Julia’s autobiography and a memoir by Julie, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen (later renamed as Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously). With brilliant performances by Meryl Streep as Julia Child (I want to hug her every time she comes onscreen as the magnificently portrayed Julia Child) and Amy Adams (so fresh and sensitive) as Julie, this is one of my favorite food-related films and is such a heartwarming watch every time. I love the spirit both women showcase in the movie; one perpetually flustered yet persevering on all counts and the other a spark of sheer determination laced with abundant happiness, all at a mature age!
It’s as Julie says – “Is there anything better than butter?” She’s right, though. That smooth nutty taste, amplifying the flavor of everything you cook, be it a dosa or a batch of cookies …who wouldn’t want that?
Catch this scene here!