Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Julie, Julia and Me

Meryl Streep can do anything. If you have any doubt of this watch her portray Julia Child in this Summer's much talked about movie "Julie and Julia".

Even though I have mentioned it here before and dutifully went and saw the film I wasn't so inclined to write about it. I was never a fan of Julia Child growing up, my TV cooking show of choice was Graham Kerr's Galloping Gourmet. I wanted to be the funny, drunk, flamboyant guy not the over sized housewife with a funny voice. Makes sense - I just wasn't her demographic.

As an adult while working for a food consultant I learned things about her distaste for gay people which further distanced me from her and by extension the cult of Julia Child.

I've never owned one of her books, they never interested me, in part I suppose because growing up in Canada where there was a lot of French influence, most of the wine at the liquor stores was French, and French food was the fancy food for so many years, I felt a little French'd out.

It wasn't until I was in my early twenties that I discovered that indeed there was much more to cooking then just traditional French food. Which isn't to say it's not important or delicious; it's more about wanting choice and as a stubborn child I didn't want to be told this is the thing I should want to explore and find out for myself.

As for cookbooks, my earliest influence was, not Julia Child, but Marion Cunningham who wrote the revised edition of the classic: Fanny Farmer Cookbook. It is a primary resource and inspiration in my kitchen to this very day. I like how simple and straightforward her recipes are and how encyclopedic is the book: if you want a recipe for something odds are it will be in Fanny Farmer.

The Joy of Cooking was the big book when I was entering adulthood and becoming interested in cooking. I used it a few times, but must have had bad luck because everything I made from it wasn't so good. Besides, it didn't have the down home, homemade feel to it that attracted me so much to Fanny Farmer.

You can see with an aesthetic like this why a book called: Mastering the Art of French Cooking was not immediately appealing. Then, when I was about ready to lean into my inner, as yet unexploited Julia love, she came out with a book called: The Way To Cook.

What? The way to cook, what way is that? I didn't realize there was only one way, thank you so much Julia Messiah Child for pointing the way! As you can tell it sort of got under my skin and that was that.

Which brings me back to the movie. It got under my skin as well, also not in a good way. Bored, barren, housewife of privilege, living in France with her diplomat husband needs something to do since she can't have children, juxtaposed to a spoiled, superficial, insecure, bitch living in Queens with her puppy dog husband who eats funny. They both turn to food for redemption (or at least distraction and fame).

I have nothing against Amy Adams who plays Julie, but as portrayed in the movie she is a one note, unsympathetic, solipsistic bitch who you'd not want to have a coffee with let along spend 123 minutes with on the big screen. Oh and did I mention she's stupid, clumsy and self involved?

The highlight of the movie is Meryl and Stanley Tucci having a great time together. Meryl is so obviously having fun and so nails the voice and mannerisms of Julia Child; unfortunately it's not enough to save the movie. Stanley Tucci takes a nothing role and manages not to disappear, really far more of an accomplishment than it sounds.

Is it worthwhile going to see it for Ms. Streep's performance? I'd say "not so much, wait for the video so you can fast forward by the stupid bits."

I don't want to spoil anything for you, but for me the highlight of the movie is Julia Child's real life comment on Julie's year long exploration of Julia's seminal book: Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It makes you realize that Ms. Child, for any quibbles I may have with her, was a straight shooter and saw things as they were and wasn't afraid to say so and for that I give her credit.

My advice. Stay home and explore in your own kitchen.

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