Tuesday, October 6, 2009


While cottaging last month, I finally finished reading Lisa Chaney's wonderful biography of the English food writer, Elizabeth David. (My dragonfly friend quite liked it too. They have become my favourite insecty reading companions.)

Not an easy woman to like, she nonetheless attracted some loyal friends, and - of course - led the post-war English to garlic and olive oil through her beautiful food writing.

I've certainly been in food mode (shocker!) and was very excited to see the new movie, Julie & Julia (2009). I was disappointed. I didn't know going in that Nora Ephron had directed it. Not my favourite director, but I'll leave it at that.

As probably most know by now, the film tells a dual story. The first is Julia Child's life in Paris in the 1950s and her quest to write and publish her Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The other story tells of Julie Powell, a young, contemporary New Yorker, working a soul-destroying job, who decides to cook her way through Julia Child's book in one year, and to blog about it. The two feats are so different: as much as Powell set herself a hell of a task, it can hardly compare with actually creating the book, yet from a marketing perspective I can see the cuteness of the idea, and certainly the cross-generational appeal widens the film's audience.

But this is not a film for food lovers. The food looks tempting in parts but is hurried through. Powell's uncouth husband shovels mouthfuls of it in, swilled immediately down by gulps of wine. He serves himself, and offers her none. He does - it seems required in a lot of Hollywood movies - the obvious and breaks into a freshly-iced cake with his hands, smearing it on his wife's face. Ugh.

Tantrums, lots of mugging for the camera, and several bad cases of the cutes were once the domain of Meg Ryan in Nora Ephron's films. Thank goodness that era is over. Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, the part Meg Ryan would have done 15 years ago. I really enjoy Amy Adams and I can't imagine Julie Powell being played more sympathetically. All the actors were so good. Meryl Streep is a goddesss and always will be one. Damn, I wish they had just let Julia Child been the subject of a full bio-pic, and really got into the meat (pun intended) of Julia Child's life. For a fine review that expresses my feelings more eloquently than I have, read Laura Shapiro's review of Julie & Julia for Gourmet.

In a spirited post-film discussion my companion waxed lyrical for Big Night (1996) and, the following week, succumbed to my pleas to let me show him Babette's Feast (1987), which - for me - is the ultimate food film. The sublime Stéphane Audran conquers the hearts and stomachs of a small sect of Danish villagers in the 19th century. I won't go on. If you haven't seen this gem, treat yourself. And there's no food to follow it. You can't possibly try and experience Babette's feast itself, so we were well prepared with pizza before hand and lots of wine.

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