Julie & Julia

Kate Spatola

Julie & Julia is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food: simple and made with little fuss.

Julie & Julia

Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond
Distributor: Sony
Release Date: 2009-12-08

There is a beautiful alchemy to cooking on par with all the great and profound arts. It is natural, even primal to observe others in this activity of transforming objective truth and personal experience through simple food and drink. Academics and intellectuals can wax on about the anthropological, psychological and cultural reasons behind this curious phenomenon but most people are content to simply watch other people make beautiful food without having to worry about making a mess themselves.

Food preparation as entertainment is a well-established (and very profitable) division within pop culture and entertainment. Today, television chefs bask in the same celebrity glow once reserved for musicians and movie stars.

The woman who ushered in this phenomenon (at least in the United States) was Julia Child. In a 1962 television promotion for her recently released cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child quickly established herself as a favorite and most unique presence in the kitchens of America’s homes. There were television chefs before Child, but they were experts and didactic instructors.

Child, with her singular and towering presence was anything but conventional. Her unabashed exuberance and passion for cooking mixed with a healthy sense of humor and playful humility made her approachable in ways that previous television cooks never could manage.

The 2009 film, Julie & Julia, is (in part) the story behind the woman who changed the way America cooks. Based on the 2006 memoir by Julie Powell, Julie & Julia is the dual story of Child’s introduction and immersion in the world of French cuisine in the early '50s and the tale of Powell as she makes her way in the modern world with Julia Child (Meryl Streep) as guide and muse.

Stuck in a cubicle, stung by her lack of professional success and depressed after her relocation to the outer borough of Queens, New York Julie Powell (Amy Adams) sets to make sense of her life by tackling all of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. In 2002, with the encouragement of her husband, Julie undertakes the yearlong task of preparing all 524 recipes in Child’s seminal cookbook and to record her efforts in an online blog. Julie & Julia is the cinematic re-telling of Powell’s efforts in tandem with the culinary birth of Child in Paris.

Working from the blueprint of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julie seeks to chart a course forward in her life. Unfortunately, what proved successful in written form fails to translate to the screen. She may have a list of everything she needs to cook her way through the book but she lacks the originality, insight and personal conviction to realize what amongst the list of varying ingredients, exotic foods and reliable instructions truly matters. Whilst Powell is content with faithfully following recipes, Child was bold enough to strike out on her own (in the kitchen) and experiment. Powell’s story feels less like the engagement or re-animation of personal passion through culinary exploration than re-heated leftovers.

Switching between the two women’s stories disrupts the momentum of Julie & Julia. The movie feels like a series of fits and starts and prevents the audience from investing fully in either woman’s storyline. Just when you feel on the verge of being absorbed by Child\s decadent embrace of Paris and its rich food culture we flash forward to Queens and are asked to muddle through the banality of Powell’s existence.

Powell feels flat and unoriginal and not just in comparison to the formidable Child. There is no spark of originality or true passion in her presence – if so it is buried under so many layers of unnecessary filler that the audience cannot be bothered to sort through. She is a minor character and there is general lack of engagement whenever she is on screen. Oddly enough, this is not an insult directed at Adams’ performance. This highly talented and likable actress does all she can with a character that is essentially flat and uninteresting.

Luckily, there is a spark and verve in Streep’s performance of Julia Child, which rescues Julie & Julia from outright failure. Her turn as the inimitable Child serves as a distracting side dish to the main meal, which is actually rather bland and unremarkable. It makes you wish Nora Ephron, the director, had focused her attention solely on Child’s story and left Powell to her blog.

It's hard to imagine another actor working in film today who could step into the sizeable shoes of such a unique American icon other than Meryl Streep. She captures Child’s intelligent expansiveness and passion with just the right tone. Whilst Streep’s performance is infused with great enthusiasm and reverence, it can at times feel too heavy and broadly drawn. She does not slip into easy caricature or mimicry, but there is expansiveness to the performance that perilously straddles the line between admiration and caricature.

The biggest flaw of Julie & Julia, however, has little to do with the film itself but rather speaks to the detachment in the essential story of these two women: the individual manifestation of personal disconnection and shared discontent. Julie and Julia are two women trying to cook their way to hope, understanding, and personal contentment. The difference between the two, however, rests in the fact that for Child, cooking is a passion that opens her to other experiences in the world and for Powell, cooking is merely a task that she must complete in order to fulfill a self-assigned duty.

Julie & Julia is the cinematic equivalent of comfort food: simple and made with little fuss.The main course is enjoyable enough, but will most likely never be a meal you rank among the best.

The DVD extras are all fairly standard and rather unexceptional. There are the obligatory commentaries (provided by Ephron), behind the scenes featurettes, cast and crew interviews, and trailers. The Blu-ray release is little better with supplemental offerings that include additional biographical features on Julia Child, interactive recipes, trivia and production information.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.