Julie & Julia
Program Length: 123 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA; English audio description track, French 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French
A magnet on my refrigerator reads, “I have a kitchen because it came with the house.” It is, therefore, reasonable to infer that I felt some ambivalence about viewing a film about culinary legend Julia Child. I knew very little about her, other than that she had written best-selling books and had a number of popular cooking shows on television. The most lasting impression I had of Julia Child was the famous parody of her done by Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live in 1978. This, I am happy to report, is no longer the case. Julie & Julia is a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable film which can even be appreciated by someone whose culinary chops begin and end with a microwave oven. Those who enjoy doing real cooking are apt to like it even more.
Julie & Julia actually tells two stories, both based on fact, which take place five decades apart. Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is a frustrated, unpublished author who works for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, a joint venture of New York City and New York State which was established in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. She and her husband Eric (Chris Messina) have moved from Manhattan to Queens, where they can afford a larger apartment and he can be closer to his work. Julie’s job, which requires her to field telephone calls from people who lost loved ones on 9/11, is alternately aggravating and gut-wrenching. She discovers that the one thing which rejuvenates her after work is cooking dinner, a task which allows her to express her creativity. With Eric’s encouragement, she challenges herself to spend an entire year making all 524 recipes which appear in Julia Child’s magnum opus, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. At the same time Julie decides to create a blog where she writes a daily journal about her progress.
The film’s other story begins in Paris in 1949. Paul Child (Stanley Tucci), a United States Foreign Service officer, and his wife Julia (Meryl Streep) arrive in France, a post to which Paul has been assigned by the State Department. Julia had worked for the OSS during World War II, but in post-war France she finds herself without a job and with too much time on her hands. She loves Paris, but she has no children and she wants to do something with her life. She tries a few activities which are not particularly satisfying, so she ultimately decides to focus on something she really loves – eating. She takes a basic cooking class, but she quickly decides that she needs something more challenging. She then enrolls in Le Cordon Bleu, becoming the only woman student in a class of aspiring chefs. She quickly displays impressive aptitude for cooking. Along the way she meets two French women who have been working on writing a French cookbook in English. However, they are unable to find a publisher because the manuscript is deemed insufficiently accessible to Americans. The women prevail upon Julia to help, and she spends the next decade helping them re-write what would become perhaps the most famous culinary book ever published.
Julie & Julia, expertly directed by Nora Ephron, transitions easily from one story to the other and back again. Julie’s blog begins to attract readers, but she becomes so obsessed with her project that it adversely affects her work and puts a strain on her marriage. Julia is likewise committed to finish the book, which she originally expects to complete in two years but in fact takes much longer. Amy Adams is excellent as the charming but excessively self-involved Julie. Meryl Streep is utterly convincing as Julia, expertly mimicking Ms. Child’s distinctive mannerisms and sing-song inflections. This is no mere impression, however. Streep does a superb job of conveying Julia’s unrestrained enthusiasm for life, and there is real chemistry between her and Tucci, who adds another convincing performance to his distinguished career (Tucci, incidentally, is himself a gourmet, having for a time owned a restaurant in Westchester County, New York). Some of the supporting roles are filled by well-known actors such as Jane Lynch and Frances Sternhagen.
Viewers will no doubt be intrigued by the way Streep, who reportedly is 5-6” tall, has been transformed by the magic of filmmaking into the 6-2” Julia Child. It should also be noted that a clip of Dan Aykroyd’s iconic Saturday Night Live impersonation appears in the film.
Julie & Julia effectively conveys the fact that cooking can be as much an artistic endeavor as writing, or painting, or any other creative activity. It also demonstrates that the greater the enthusiasm of the artist, the better the result is likely to be. Julia Child loved to cook, and she turned her love of cooking into a career as author and television personality, a career which lasted for more than four decades. Julie Powell likewise found an outlet for her creativity in cooking, essentially channeling Julia as she worked her way through 524 recipes in 365 days. At the same time, this is also a very romantic film, particularly when it focuses on the very loving relationship between Julia and Paul. During a Valentine’s Day party, Paul proclaims in front of their friends, “Julia, you are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life.” Julie & Julia is witty, intelligent and thoroughly entertaining. As Julia Child would say, “Bon appetit!”
Sony has done a typically superlative job in transferring Julie & Julia to Blu-ray. The picture is extremely sharp and detailed. Colors are vivid and accurate, blacks and deep and solid, and shadow detail is excellent. Many of the exterior shots were filmed on location in New York and Paris, and those images are very nicely done. The interior shots are equally well-done. The entire program is satisfyingly film-like.
The lossless DTS-HD MA soundtrack is a treat to listen to. This is not the sort of soundtrack which will give your audio system a workout, but the dialogue is reproduced clearly and there is excellent dimensionality to the music. The surround channels are effectively used to convey ambient sounds, whether it be the clashing of pots and pans, the fierce chopping of onions, or the noise of traffic outside the apartment in Queens.
Blu-ray extras include a commentary by director Nora Ephron, who also wrote the script.
“Secret Ingredients: Creating Julie & Julia” is an informative 28-minute “making of” featurette which includes input from the real Julie Powell and all of the principal actors.
“Friends and Family Remember Julia Child” is a 48-minute featurette which gives many of Julia’s relatives, friends and acquaintances the opportunity to reflect on her life and achievements.
“Julia’s Kitchen” tells the story about how The Smithsonian convinced Julia Child to let the museum take possession of her entire kitchen, where it is now on display.
Five cooking lessons, including two by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, will teach the viewer how to poach eggs, make hollandaise sauce, prepare scrambled eggs, cook braised short ribs, and prepare butter-poached Maine lobster.
Sony’s movieIQ feature allows the viewer to pull up windows with various Julia Child recipes while the film is playing. There will also be BD-Live features which will be activated on the release date.
Also included are previews of ten other Sony Blu-ray releases, including the upcoming Michael Jackson’s This is It.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
Julie & Julia is an engaging, intelligent, funny and romantic film which will both charm you and give you a deeper appreciation of the art of cooking.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable