Yes, we’re in a bit of a Meryl Streep frenzy at the moment after reviewing The River Wild (1994) and Doubt (2008). But now it’s time… for food!
And that’s what Julie & Julia (2009) delivers. The biographical tale is about food blogger Julie Powell (1973-2022, see the end of this review for the sad news) and legendary cooking teacher and TV chef Julia Child (1912-2004).
The film is a lot of fun. Light-hearted entertainment! And what’s wrong with that?! Let’s crack an egg and get into this SOB.
Julie & Julia Channels its Inner Julia Child Exhortations
When we first watched this back in 2009, we were in the middle of our Amy Adams phase. That’s where we’d go well out of our way to watch anything with Amy Adams in it.
Since those heady days, we’ve grown up enough to not let her dictate our film watching schedule.
13 years on, the real standout thing here (other than Amy Adams) is the excellent central performance from Meryl Streep.
Meryl Streep… acting extremely well? Who’d have thought it!?
Anyway, before getting into that! It’s a good idea to see the real Julia Child in action, as she had a forceful and engaging personality.
Here’s the REAL chef Child cooking on the Dick Cavett Show in March, 1980.
Child was the first celebrity TV chef. And that was thanks to her larger-than-life personality, accessible cooking tips, and TV shows such as The French Chef (which first aired in 1963).
She didn’t run restaurants, she was primarily a cooking teacher.
Due to her eccentric mannerisms and distinctive (almost British) vocal style, she was playfully lampooned by many comedians. Such as Dan Akroyd below from Saturday Night Live in 1978.
Julia Child loved that sketch and, reportedly, would often play it to guests in her home.
What she didn’t love was what a young Julie Powell began doing in 2002, which was blogging daily about her cooking from Child’s cookbook—Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961).
Julie & Julia portrays this crossover of lives through flashbacks:
- Stuff from the 1950s when Child, in unabashed fashion, moved to Paris from the US with her husband. There she gets French cooking lessons and forges her career as an author.
- 2002 when Julie (Adams) begins blogging about her cooking efforts to take her mind off her rubbish day job.
So, you get lots of scenes with Child doing her thing. Like this.
And those scenes merge with the “modern” world of 2002 when blogging was emerging as a fancy new medium.
Who’d ever blog, eh? We can’t see the point in that.
Anyway, we digress. With Julie becoming 2002’s version of the UK’s Jack “Tin Can Cook” Monroe, you get all these insights on New York life. It’s not like Friends, you know?
The film plays around with this, showing how Child essentially set out a charm offensive to get herself into the unexpected limelight.
Meanwhile, Julie’s stock in the US grows with each passing meal. People like her blog, journalists show interest, and she makes a name for herself.
However, the pair never meet. And that’s true of real life!
Some effort was made around 2002 for the real Julia Child to take note of Julie Powell’s efforts, but the then 89 year old rejected any proposals. She just didn’t like what she saw.
The film builds towards this climatic scene—Powell receiving mainstream recognition for her blogging and gaining a book deal of her own.
Kind of like how Child did in the ’50s… just in more modern technology kind of ways.
Her blog was turned into the book: Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. And that became the film! Although Child’s autobiography My Life in France (2006) was also used—the book was compiled after the chef’s death in 2004.
It makes for an intrigue, light film. Although there are occasionally weighty themes, these are usually brushed aside quickly to make for light comedy.
And there’s no denying the main draw of the film is to see Meryl Streep do what she does best. She’s fantastic as Julia Child.
So, yeah, some people would find this bit of light entertainment a little twee.
But it’s stuck with us over the years, primarily as it’s a quite fitting homage to one of the top chefs from the 20th century. She may have been quirky, but she commanded a lot of respect. And this film shows exactly why.
Julie & Julia’s Production
Directed by Nora Ephron (1941-2012), it was unfortunately her final film before her passing.
She also wrote the screenplay for Meryl Streep vehicle Silkwood (1932) and won an Oscar for that. Plus, she wrote When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Sleepless in Seattle (1993). She also directed the latter. Not a bad run, eh?
Her final film here was a smash hit! Its $40 million budget went on to rake back $129.5 million, which is a proper good showing.
Now, Streep is brilliant in the role. No denying that. But some adjustments were made to make the actor look like who she was playing. And we mean a bit more than the wig.
Julia Childs was a rather surprising 6’2″, whilst Streep is a puny 5’6″.
To give the impression she was unusually tall (for a human female), many props on various sets were lowered. Plus, on other occasions Streep wore extra high heels.
Due to the amount of food everyone was eating during filming, a lot of the crew gained weight during the production. For example, Streep put on 15 pounds.
All that effort paid off, as she got another Oscar nomination for her performance (her 16th by 2009). But she lost out to Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side.
Streep has three already, so what the hey?
Great accolades for her, but for Amy Adams it was one of her more straightforward roles following on from Doubt (2008) and Junebug (2005). But she got much more challenging roles in the years ahead.
But while Julie & Julia was a commercial hit, critics weren’t excessively wowed with it. The thing got middling reviews, except for lots of praise aimed at Meryl Streep.
Bung her into any film and you can guarantee some excellence, eh?
Julie Powell Tribute
Sadly, the news has just emerged today (02/11/22) that Julie Powell died on 26th October 2022 at the age of 49. She was in New York at the time and her husband broke the news.
Obviously, everyone is very sad to hear this.
We wrote this review back in July after we remembered how enjoyable Julie & Julia was. And we hope people will return to the film, like we did, to celebrate its offbeat and easy charms.
That’d be a fitting celebration of Powell’s life, we feel, to revel in that creativity.
I rewatched this recently on an airplane. I was amused by the dated, early-2000s notion that a blog could lead to press hits and book deals. I don’t think this aged well.
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I know a few people in the UK where it’s worked like that, like Jack Monroe. But it’s super rare! Blogging is about fun anyway, not book deals. That’s the important thing!