That ‘Julia’ Thing

By Beacon Staff

I don’t generally go to movies because following the advent of the VCR and DVD eras, moviegoers seemed to treat theaters pretty much the same as their living rooms and generally have no regard for others around them.

I also have a huge problem with those enormous tubs of overpriced popcorn and soft drinks that certain people in the theater feel obliged to chew and slurp so that everyone else is forced to listen to their boorish ways and extraordinarily bad manners.

Despite all of the forgoing, I had to make an exception for the recently-released “Julie and Julia,” a bio-pic paralleling the lives of the legendary Julia Child and the blogger-cum-gourmet cook Julie Powell.

The producers and distributors of this film have spent enormous sums promoting the movie on television, radio, and online – the new hot place to promote a la Facebook and Twitter. As a Facebooker and Twitter user as well as a TV viewer, I saw quite a number of excerpts from the movie. That Meryl Streep can morph into anyone she chooses is a given, but this was an exceptional impersonation.

And Stanley Tucci (as Paul Child) manages to find himself cast in some of the greatest food movies ever – starting with “Big Night.” Lucky guy. Amy Adams, in my opinion, is a talented actress who probably ought to stay in fantasy musicals. I think she was miscast in this film.

Nora Ephron, the director, is well-respected in food circles herself. Read her book, Crazy Salad Plus Nine, if you need proof.

Many professional movie critics have called this film a chronicle of two love stories, with food playing a secondary role. The reviews have been lukewarm, at best. Tell that to the foodies of America. To me, the food looked great. It should have. Ms. Ephron hired some very talented chefs who made every dish numerous times so that scenes could be re-filmed until the director was satisfied.

I enjoyed this movie, for the most part, but felt the ending was rather abrupt. I left the theater feeling as though I had eaten a fine French meal and had to leave before dessert was served.

Long before I considered the culinary profession as a career, I used to watch Julia Child. The food she prepared in those days seemed secondary to the character she was playing – herself. She was a funny lady and I think she knew it. Nevertheless, all of the plaudits and honorifics accorded her, as the one person who changed the way Americans cook and eat, are correct and richly deserved.

Julia Child predated Food Network by decades. She used a kitchen that was primitive by today’s standards, but proved that fine food could be prepared in any home kitchen (which is actually the premise of my weekly television show). Unlike so many of today’s celebrity chefs, she refused to endorse or be associated with any brand-name product. She also declined to put her name on cookware, knives and other kitchen equipment. She felt it demeaned her authority as a cook. It’s a quality to be admired. The economics of today, regrettably, don’t give television cooks any such luxury of choice.

Nevertheless, the legions of us who do cook on television owe our livelihoods to Julia Child and the ground she broke so many years ago. She proved that cooking could be educational and entertaining at the same time. Her own mistakes on camera became the stuff of legend, but proved that even the most seasoned cook or chef is human.

The Saturday Night Live spoof of her, performed brilliantly by Dan Akroyd (and a favorite of Julia Child’s), is replayed in the movie.

I was only casually aware of the blog that Julie Powell wrote about cooking everything in the Child masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I tip my toque to her for the accomplishment.

What it reminded me of, though, was that I lent my copy of this book to someone some time ago and it was never returned and I can’t remember who borrowed it.

Happily, however, I will contribute to the royalties the Julia Child Foundation will receive when I replace my long-lost copy with a new one from the 49th printing.

When my cookbook is published, I should only be so lucky.

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