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Julie & Julia — notes on the movie

Written By Scott Joseph On July 30, 2009

Julie & JuliaLast week Pam Brandon of the Divas of Dish and Scott Joseph’s Orlando Restaurant Guide hosted a private screening of the soon-to-be-released movie Julie & Julia, starring Meryl Streep as Julia Child.

We filled a large auditorium at Winter Park Village Regal cinemas with local foodies, including many chefs and readers of SJO. It was a terrific night that began with a 2-for-1 cocktail party at Rocco’s, hosted by owner Rocco Potami. We had a good crowd and several people took the occasion to try Rocco’s new “small plates” menu to tide them over until they could get to the theater and get a bucket of popcorn. Afterwards, we all went to Citrus, where the crew had prepared an array of appetizers for us to nosh on while we chewed over the movie.

At the theater, we all filed in and found seats in the comfortable auditorium. Before the movie began I had an opportunity to tell a brief story about my first contact with Julia Child, but I didn’t tell the whole story. Here’s the longer version:

About 11 years ago I was in Venice to interview Marcella Hazan, the Italian cooking expert who is so wildly popular in the U.S., for a profile I was doing on her for Florida magazine. She and her husband, Victor, were preparing to leave Venice to take up permanent residence in Longboat Key. As we sat talking in their apartment, which was the top floor of an old palazzo overlooking the rooftops of Venice, Marcella, a heavy smoker, lit up a cigarette.

As she did, she turned to Victor and, apropos of nothing we’d been discussing, said, “When Julia comes tomorrow I’m smoking.” Victor just shrugged and said, “It’s your house, you can do what you want.”

Realizing I wouldn’t know what they were talking about, Marcella turned to me and explained that Julia Child, who was also in Venice at that moment, hated cigarette smoke. Marcella said that Julia would be coming to have lunch the following day. “She wanted to have lunch today,” Marcella told me, “but I told her I was having lunch with you today.” Marcella really knew how to stroke the media! I was thrilled to think I had bumped the legendary Julia Child from that day’s guest list. (Deep down, I have no delusions of such a thing, but I’ve loved telling that story over the years.)

Back in Florida a few weeks later, I thought it might be helpful to get some quotes from Child about her friendship with Hazan. I thought it best to go through her cookbook publisher. So I called a publicist at Knopf who gave me a phone number to call in Massachusetts. It was late in the afternoon, but I called the number and got an answering machine. The voice on the machine was that of a young woman, clearly not Julia Child. I left a message, speaking to whomever this unidentified woman was, explaining the purpose for the call and asking if I might somehow be able to have a brief interview with Ms. Child.

The next morning I arrived at my desk and found the message light blinking on my phone. I punched in my code and heard that outrageously ebullient and oh so recognizable voice say, “Hello, Scott, it’s Julia Child.”

And all I could think of was, “That sounds like Dan Akroyd!” the original Saturday Night Live performer who did the famously funny impersonation of the great cook so many years ago.

I did finally speak to Julia and she was kind, gracious and generous with her time. So, too, when I had the opportunity to meet her in person several years later.

I told the crowd before the movie that I was sure Streep’s performance would make us all forget Akroyd’s. I didn’t know at the time that that hilarious SNL skit was included in the movie.

I enjoyed the movie a lot, and while some might dismiss it as a “chick flick” it really is so much more. All foodies will enjoy it, and I heartily recommend it.

The movie, which was written for the screen and directed by the comic genius Nora Ephron, is touted as being based on two true stories: Child’s, of course, but also Julie Powell, a novice cook who took on the task of cooking all of the recipes Child’s break-through cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in the span of one year. Powell blogged about the process, was featured in a story in the New York Times, then approached to put the story into book form.

The movie goes back and forth between Julia and her husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), in 1950s Paris as she decides to take cooking lessons at Le Cordon Bleu, and Powell, played by Amy Adams in the Queens apartment she shares with her husband, Eric (Chris Messina). The flashbacks are based on Child’s memoir, “My Life in France,” co-written with Alex Prudhomme (her grand nephew).

All the characters are quite likable. Tucci is his usual easy-going fellow and Messina is an encouraging supporter of his wife’s project. (The only low point in the film involves a lame fight the Powells have because she keeps calling him a saint and he is offended by it. For this he sleeps on his office couch?)

Adams is a sweet ingenue. She sincerely worships Julia Child, and we all feel her disappointment when a reporter delivers the news that Child, then 90 and living in California, upon hearing about Powell’s project, said she didn’t think Julie was really a serious cook. (I think the word Child actually used for such people was “flimsies.”)

We don’t see Child portrayed in her later years, which is just as well. But the scenes of her in those early days are a delight, thanks to Streep’s portrayal. She has Child’s mannerism and quirks down to a t. And, of course, that voice. I just kept waiting for her to say, “Save the liver.”

But there was something about the portrayal that struck me, and took me back to the Hazan’s Venice apartment that day that I “bumped” her from the luncheon list. There is no reference to it in the movie, no one points it out or makes a comment about how or when she changed. But in those early days in France, Julia Child, apparently, was a heavy smoker.
Julie & Julia opens nationwide on August 7. Go see it, then come back and tell me what you think.

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