It’s 1949. Julia Child and her diplomat husband, Paul, are living blissfully in a post-WWII Paris. But as much as she adores her spouse, Julia isn’t sure hanging on his arm will be enough. She wants to learn something useful she can fill her days with. “What is it that you really like to do?” Paul asks her over a sumptuous meal. “Eat,” she laughs in reply.
Relying on her upbeat personality and never-say-die spirit, Julia sets her sights on conquering Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. Then, faster than Jacques Pépin can rustle up some coq au vin, she’s mastered the art of French cooking and is bringing her skill to the masses—on TV in America.
It’s 2002. Julie Powell and her writer husband, Eric, are happily married and living in a tiny apartment over a Queens, N.Y., pizzeria. But as much as she loves her hubby, Julie is just flat-out miserable. She’s pushing 30 and works in a cubicle at a trying government job. Besides that, her mover-and-shaker friends pummel her with stories of their latest business triumphs. One of them has even started an online blog.
“I could do a blog,” Julie whines to her husband. “I have thoughts!” So, after a bit of encouragement from Eric, the saucepan-wielding thinker decides to spend a year cooking through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child’s classic book of 524 recipes, and telling the Internet world about her progress.
From that first diced onion and initial keystroke entry we’re pulled into a tale of two women who separately discover a singular culinary passion that gets them through the lip-smacking good days and the overcooked bad ones.
Other than a passion for cooking, one thing that Julia and Julie have in common are loving, devoted married relationships. As part of their respective warmhearted bonds, Eric and Paul repeatedly support and encourage their wives. For example, Paul tells his wife, who is having a terribly difficult time finding a publisher, “Your book is a work of genius. Your book will change the world.” Eric thinks he’s fed up at one point, and he even disappears for a night, but he and Julie patch things up rapidly and he resumes his loving adoration.
In turn, the women privately and publicly praise their husbands. In fact, looking at things more broadly, the movie takes Julia Child’s approach to cooking—to love the process without worrying over perfection—and espouses that same philosophy for life and marriage.
Julie points out that cooking can be a form of personal therapy: “Cooking is a way I get away from what I do all day.” Her blogging has the same pressure valve-release effect. She comes to realize that enjoyable hard work and self-expression can change a negative perspective. When Julie turns 30 she tells Eric and her gathering of friends, “I thought this was gonna be terrible, but thanks to you, and to Julia, it looks like I’m gonna get through.”
Not one to finish many projects, Julie uses her cooking/blogging experiment to exercise her weak stick-to-it muscles.
On the plus side, it’s pointed out that when Julia met her husband, at age 30-plus, she was a virgin. And passion over savory food translates into physical passion several times, resulting in Julia and Julie both kissing and cuddling with their respective spouses—casually and passionately. (Sexually, everything beyond these relatively circumspect public displays of affection happens offscreen and outside the scope of the script.)
For a postcard photo, Paul and Julia sit together (bare from the shoulders up) in a bathtub full of bubbles. Julie wears a few low-cut tops, is seen from the back wearing only shorts and a bra as she wraps her legs around hubby, and she reveals quite a bit of leg when wearing her husband’s shirt to bed. Eric is bare-chested in bed in one scene.
A reference is made to “doing it” in an airplane.
Ah, the violent things cooks do to their food! A live lobster is chopped up and three others are tossed in boiling water.
One f-word and three s-words are followed by a half-dozen or so uses each of “d–n” and “b–ch.” “A–” and “h—” make one or two appearance each. God’s name is misused six or eight times—once combined with “d–n.” A vulgar reference (that includes the word “c–k”) is made to aroused male genitalia. Someone says “schmuck.”
In Julie & Julia‘s version of the ’40s and ’50s, smoking and copious drinking are constant. Julia and Paul smoke cigarettes and drink wine or other forms of alcohol at every meal and public function. Everyone around them does so as well. The modern day take extinguishes the cigarettes and cigars, but still displays couples pouring and drinking wine with their meals and in other casual moments. Julie downs many, many martinis.
A few mild political jabs are tossed out at U.S. Republicans.
I’m not much of a cook. And I’ve only sat through a scant few of my wife’s favorite cooking shows. But after watching Julie & Julia‘s many scenes of French cuisine preparation and lusty consumption, I can’t help but dole out my final review comments in a similar food-loving vein.
I’ll start with this: The movie has all the right ingredients.
The idea of two women, separated by a handful of decades but connected by the food they both love preparing, is fun and fresh. And the actors are all enjoyably appealing. Meryl Streep, in particular, whisks up a spot-on depiction of the naturally funny—and quirky—chef guru Julia Child. And the film’s encouragement to enjoy equal measures of passion and patience in life and in marriage is as uplifting as a perfectly fluffy soufflé. (Not to mention the onscreen delicacies that look so delicious you want to pull up a chair and dig right in.)
But the recipe called for sugar, and the chef throws in some salt by mistake. It comes in the form of imprudent language, mostly, but also in a few too many boring third-act details about cookbook publishing and blogging fatigue.
Sodium doesn’t completely destroy the dish—there’s too much marital bliss and too many good life lessons on display for that—but it does keep Julie & Julia from winning the Food Network’s $10,000 Challenge. In cooking show jargon, I’d have to say: Near-perfect gourmet idea. And nice presentation. But the boeuf bourguignon is a tad overdone.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.