Image Credit: Sony Pictures Releasing
As we roll into another week of lockdown – I’ve lost count of how many weeks in we are – I’m sure I speak for a lot of people when I say I’ve begun combing through Netflix on an almost daily basis, looking for a new dose of escapism. Julie and Julia perfectly fit the bill; it was uplifting, funny and almost absurd, despite being based on a true story.
What drew me to Julie and Julia was Netflix’s description of a woman so bored with the monotony of her New York life that she sets herself to cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Having been isolated back in my tiny hometown for two months, this tediousness sounded familiar, so I decided to give it a watch.
Directed by Nora Ephron, the film interlinks two true stories; that of Julia Child, who is said to have taught Americans how to cook, and that of Julie Powell who, just over half a century later, gives herself one year to cook every recipe in Julia’s book. Julie, played by Amy Adams, writes a blog about her experience – which can still be found on the Internet Archive, and is an interesting read – and we are the audience to her escalating fame.
The film begins in 1949 with Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) moving to France. The charming rural French scenery and quaint towns are exactly where we would expect to find such an upper-class, sophisticated woman, yet Julia contrasts the surrounding sleepiness with her loud laughter, unsteady voice, and 6’2” stature. Undoubtedly for those unfamiliar with Julia Child – me included – her character is a surprise: being a diplomat’s wife and rich woman in her own right, we don’t expect such a purely joyful character. Streep’s ebullience flawlessly reflects that of Julia Child’s, and her portrayal is the film’s most winning aspect.
Julie’s story begins in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. She is working full-time in a call centre helping those affected by the tragedy, and blames her job for her failed attempt at becoming a writer. Living with her husband in a noisy flat above a pizzeria in Queens, surrounded by friends who epitomise Julie’s definition of ‘successful’ by chatting flippantly about their $190m architectural projects, she decides she wants to do something unusual, and so begins her challenge.
The film felt more fitting in lockdown than it would have done in normal times; Julie and Julia’s endless restlessness is identifiable, and boredom inspires their ambitious tasks. Julia’s flitting about looking for a new hobby to take up mirrors me, and unquestionably many others, frantically looking for a cure to the lengthy hours of sameness. She enrols in hat making lessons, attends a card game course, and goes to cooking school.
Her first aimless, futile attempts at various projects are reassuring to say the least – we don’t have to find a hidden talent in our flitting about, especially not during the lockdown, to end up (metaphorically, at least) like Julia Child. When Julia realises she wants a non-existent book about French cuisine written in English, she decides to write one. Julie’s lack of motivation and subsequent desire to begin a project which she christens “deranged” is easily recognisable too. She is swamped in the daily grind of work-eat-sleep-repeat, which again, many of us are facing, and she ultimately craves some great change.
Julie and Julia, despite its certain relevance, served as the escapism I needed. Its light-hearted story is a distraction from the usual doom and gloom, and satiates any pent-up wanderlust through its stunning shots of France and New York. Parts felt slightly cliché, but the ending was a surprise and Julie’s visit to Julia’s house concluded what could be deemed a pilgrimage to Julia Child. The plot is touching and intriguing, made more so by the fact that it is a true story.
Julie and Julia now streaming on Netflix.