The fourth year of the Tryon Fine Arts Center’s film series — its most popular yet — highlighted “the cinematic pleasures of food and drink.” Like a long-awaited dessert, the best film has been saved for last — Julie & Julia, the spirited tale of how two dissimilar women, at different times and continents apart, find their respective purposes in life through the pursuit of French cooking.
As suits the movie’s theme, the gala reception before Julie & Julia will applaud French cuisine. A dozen film-committee members, along with chefs from the festival sponsor, Tryon International Equestrian Center, will serve up treats based on Julia Child’s recipes.
Julie & Julia unfolds on screen like a braid with intertwining golden threads. The three strands are woven by five of America’s most talented on- and off-screen women: Chef/writer/TV star Julia Child is brought to life by superstar Meryl Streep at the height of her fame (garnering her 17th Oscar nomination). Trend-setting food blogger Julie Powell is portrayed by Amy Adams, well known then but not yet famous (she can now claim five Oscar nominations). The last strand is writer/director Nora Ephron (1941-2012), one of Hollywood’s most beloved filmmakers (three Oscar nominations), who also happened to be a novelist, essayist, food writer, and the unofficial guesser of the identity of the Watergate secret informant “Deep Throat.” (Her second husband was All the President’s Men journalist Carl Bernstein.)
It’s 2002. Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is stagnating in a dead-end job, her writing career going nowhere, unhappily living above a pizzeria in Queens with her husband Eric (Chris Messina). Though she doesn’t like to cook, Julie wants something to devour her energy, so she creates the Julie/Julia Project — a wildly ambitious mission to make in one year all 524 recipes in the legendary cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking, co-authored in 1961 by Julia Child and two French-chef friends.
Blogging as a cultural phenomenon had just started, and in doing it, Julie finally finds her writer’s voice. It surprises her — and thrills her growing number of followers. (“I didn’t know you had a sense of humor,” her mother says. “Neither did I!” answers Julie.) In 2005, her book, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, was published. The film it inspired was the first based on a blog.
While Julie Powell is blogging in New York, Julia Child, now in her 90s and widowed (her cherished husband Paul died in 1994), dwells in an assisted-living center in Montecito, California, working on her autobiography, My Life in France. The book covers Julia’s years in that country — her self-professed “spiritual homeland” — from 1948 to 1954, when she was in her mid-30s to 40s. It describes in detail the processes, adventures, and culinary stars she knew on her way to fame as a promoter of French cuisine, both in print and on TV. The book, co-created with her husband’s grandnephew Alex Prud’homme, was published posthumously. (Child died in 2004.)
Julia was asked to “bless” the Julie Powell blog, but declined. She didn’t consider Julie a serious chef (true) and disapproved of the younger woman’s tendency to season her cooking with cursing. The two never met in real life.
Enter Nora Ephron, who, among her many pursuits in life, was a well-known foodie. She intertwines Julie the blogger’s story with Julia the icon’s autobiography. Though separated by era and culture, the two stories tell a related tale: a woman’s desire to find herself in work that consumes her.
Amy Adams delivers a fine performance as the manic blogger, but what audiences tend to remember is the happy marriage that Paul and Julia enjoyed — and the celebrity chef’s rambunctious, unquenchable personality. Once you’ve seen Julia Child showing off a naked chicken in all its plucked glory, or picking a misfired tossed omelet off the floor (“You’re alone in the kitchen — who will see?”), you can understand how the gangly humorist (she was 6’2”) in the white apron could literally transform the taste buds of America.
Jim Tabb — local barbecue master and creator of Pig Powder, a seasoning rub whose secret ingredients are locked away in a safe — knew Julia Child well. They became friends over the years meeting at different food events across the country. “We’d have these ‘cross-eating’ meals,” recalls Tabb, who will introduce the film. “Julia loved to try everything. She’d fork-spear a bit of this, a bit of that — right off everyone’s plates.”
Julie & Julia
Tuesday, May 2
Tryon Fine Arts Center
34 Melrose Ave., Downtown Tryon
A limited-ticket gala reception starts at 6pm. $20 includes the movie.
The film starts at 7pm
(movie-only tickets are $6).
Marcianne Miller is a member of SEFCA (Southeast Film Critics Association) and NCFCA (North Carolina Film Critics Association) Email her at email@example.com.