I feel like a traitor. I have declared here that Julia Child is the reason I can cook today, but I waited more than two months to see Julie and Julia. Part of the delay can be attributed to finding someone to watch He Who Will Not Be Ignored (difficult in the summer when all of our college-student sitters are away), but part can also be blamed on my reluctance to have Julia tainted by a sucky movie. And the suck potential was there right from the release of the trailer:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcXwAd3tTYg
It has “Nora Ephron Secret Chord Progression” stamped all over it: Meryl Streep plays an overbearing woman to Stanley Tucci’s sweet, even-tempered partner, contrasted with the creatively stifled ingenue (with darkly handsome but resentful boyfriend/husband) trying to make her way in the big city – and throw in the Annie Hall lobster scene for good measure. But, unlike The Devil Wears Prada, Julie and Julia had a lot to recommend it.
So, after a dinner or perfectly roasted garlic-rosemary chicken with roasted fingerling potatoes and yellow beans, She Who Must Be Obeyed and I made our way to Harvard Square to take in the film. I still wish I could have watched the biopic waiting to be made from Child’s My Life in France, which would have to include Streep’s note-perfect performance as Julia (an illusion broken only if you caught a glimpse of her platform shoes). But, since this was based on the book based on Julie Powell’s blog, we had to slog through her angst-filled days working as a cubicle jockey. I had to remind myself that I was watching a moviefied version of her life, and that she was the pioneer of through-cooking, someone who could schlep home and still bang out a ‘graph like this:
Julia Child wants you – that’s right, you, the one living in the tract house in sprawling suburbia with a dead-end secretarial job and nothing but a Stop-n-Shop for miles around – to master the art of french cooking. (No caps, please.) She wants you to know how to make good pastry, and also how to make those canned green beans taste alright. She wants you to remember that you are human, and as such are entitled to that most basic of human rights, the right to eat well and enjoy life.
I found myself making snarky comments (“She’s using the wrong knife,” “Don’t make aspic on a hot summer day”), and then Ephron sucker-punched me. She revealed the boeuf bourguignon moment, not once, but twice. It’s the touchstone dish in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a dish that if you make once you will make for the rest of your life. We got to see both Julie and Judith Jones, Julia’s editor, make the dish, and I knew exactly how their “a-ha” moments felt.
So I wound up thoroughly enjoying the movie, even if I had been manipulated. I left knowing that I had a challenge ahead of me: Julie makes a big deal out of making the pâté de canard en croute because it involves boning a duck, stuffing it, wrapping it in puff pastry, and baking it. Even though she used the wrong knife – really, a chef’s knife is the wrong tool, there’s a reason why there’s a boning knife – she succeeded in completing the dish, her last recipe from the book (in the movie, at least, her actual last set of recipes is here):
As we drove home, taking a detour past 130 Irving Street, Julia’s former home in Cambidge (just behind the Great Wall of Harvard that separates Cambridge from Somerville), I had a thought: If that wrong-knife-usin’, tiny-kitchen workin’, whiny thirtysomething can manage pâté de canard en croute, then it should be a cakewalk for me.