‘Julie & Julia’: ‘I need something to do’
Women my mother’s and Julia Child’s generations followed their husbands wherever their careers led them. In their new cities, wives busied themselves with hobbies, raising children and, if finances dictated, jobs. (Provided their husbands approved.)
Julia Child didn’t have kids, and had abandoned her foreign-service career by the time “Julie & Julia” opens. So she tried hat making and bridge classes in Paris before enrolling at Cordon Bleu. “I need something to do,” Meryl Streep trills over and over as the chef in waiting, and the actress has never been more affecting in conveying a sunny woman’s yearning for purpose.
Amy Adams, meanwhile, plays Julie Powell, a modern woman who has a job, but not satisfaction in it. Also intelligent – she went to Amherst to Childs’s Smith – and married to a sympathetic man, she is toiling away as a Manhattan bureaucrat, her literary ambitions on hold while her contemporaries climb the ladder to success. Cooking is Powell’s release, and, it turns out, her salvation: She rediscovers her voice blogging about her one-year mission to cook all the recipes in Child’s 1961 bestseller, “Mastering the Art of French Cuisine.”
Many reviewers have compared the two characters unfavorably, suggesting that Ephron’s script unfairly highlights the inequity between the two. Certainly, Powell is less accomplished and likable on screen. Prone to meltdowns, she could use a dollop of Child’s indomitable spirit, so memorably caricatured by Dan Aykroyd on “Saturday Night Live” and incorporated into the movie. Adams also has the misfortune of being saddled with familiar Ephron tics; she evokes characters played by Meg Ryan in earlier movies.
In the end, both characters find their purpose. Cordon Bleu unleashes Child’s competitive spirit and passions. Powell gets a book deal. Both have something to do – that they love to do — and they are rewarded for it.
During times like these, what’s not to like about that?
Today’s LAT has an appreciation of Adams, overshadowed in much of the earlier coverage, and indeed the movie. The NYT story on movie’s depiction of a mature marriage is also worth a look; A.O. Scott’s review is here.