But once in a while I'll watch a movie that everyone absolutely adores that makes me go WTF?! Julie & Julia is one such movie.
J&J is based on two memoirs, which the screenplay cleverly intersects into one integrated parallel narrative. It's been done many times before but it works in an impressively well oiled way in this movie. Julie (Amy Adams) - who is a bit of a failed writer and stuck in a dead end job - cooks her way through 524 recipes from Julia Child's cookbook (Mastering the Art of French Cuisine) as a way of proving to herself that she undertake something creative AND finish it. She blogs about it (the original blog is here on Salon).
In the second interwoven story, Julia Child (Meryl Streep) moves to Paris and begins her now famous love affair with French cuisine.
There are several reasons I just didn't get into the movie. We'll leave the well accepted ones aside: lack of a propulsive plot, somewhat one-dimensional supporting characters, no real conflict. The biggest reason for my LACK of engagement was: THE FOOD!
Everyone who loved the movie loved the food in it. The first piece of food that Julia tastes in the movie is a fish swimming in butter. Hells Bells! What a perfectly good way to ruin a fish! Director Nora Ephron then drives this point home when she ladles on (so to say) the butter. Julie is shown talking about how lots of butter is essential for cooking good food. Cue heart attack inducing shots of blocks of butter melting in a pan. Let's get back to REAL food, Ephron seems to be saying, simultaneously thumbing her nose at the cageyness of modern day cuisine to embrace good wholesome fat.
For the rest of the movie I was regaled with lovingly shot recipes featuring meat slathered with butter and wrapped up in pastry wherever possible. I might have seen a vegetable or two tossed in there somewhere - but they disappeared before I could pull out my microscope. At one point Julie tries to make a jelly out of beef stew. Later she tries to stuff chicken liver back in the chicken before baking it.
Once in the entire movie I saw Julia toss some oregano in a pot. Hadn't anyone in France heard of haldi or garam masala back then? For a desi like me, cooking without spices is a crime of the highest order. By the time the final recipe made its way into the movie - a duck baked in pastry (the only spices in there - salt), I had lost my appetite for the ENTIRE WEEKEND.
During my graduate days, a friend (part Polish-part French-part German) used to admonish me for adding flavor to meat or vegetables. "What's the point?" she used to say, glaring at me "the original taste of what you are cooking is completely gone!"
I can't argue that point (I even have some relatives who won't eat a fruit unless its slices are sprinkled with chaat masala). But using spices has advantages. For one, it allows you put flavorful food on the table without having to fry it each time for big taste. Second, if used right you can incorporate the medicinal value of spices right into your plate of food. To be fair, Indian cooking has several shortcomings - the worst of which is how much we tend to overcook our food and lose most of its nutritional value. But I digress.
Back to movie: Julia Child is credited with empowering American women with the confidence to cook again. This is alluded to in Julie's story where she gains control of her life by learning cooking through Childs' cookbook. I was completely unable to connect with this emotional subtext in the story although that was not related to the food in the movie.
On the other hand, I am increasingly fascinated by the impressively burgeoning career of Amy Adams. I love the way her hair itself gives a performance in every movie (hold on to that hairstylist!). But that is a whole different post.
The movie is based on the following books:
Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell
My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme
My thanks to Beth and Memsaab for helping me understand why the movie (and the iconic Child) was so loved by everyone