Julie & Julia is made of hilarious, heartfelt perfection. Director Nora Ephron has taken Julie Powell's best selling memoir of the same name, which recounts the woman's attempts to blog her adventures in preparing all of Julia Child's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' recipes, and turns it into a fascinating look at two women struggling with their own insecurities through cooking. Ephron's dish is a delicious mix, paralleling the life of Powell as she becomes a blogging megastar with the French adventures of Child as she seeks to perfect her own skills as a culinary artist. The film acts as a mirror on Child and Powell's kitchen defined lives, giving us just as much from the written text of Julie & Julia as from the fascinating memoir My Life In France, written by Child with her nephew Alex Prud'homme. What we're left with is really two movies in one. Both are fascinating, and they make this one summer concoction you won't want to miss.
Julie & Julia is, quite literally, the perfect date movie. It not only acts as an emotional stimulate that will inspire you to seek out a romantic adventure of your own, it also works in stimulating the appetite with its many beautifully photographed dishes. Which have come directly out of Julia Child's magnum opus 'Mastering the French Art of Cooking'. Much of the film chronicles Child's struggle to get this masterwork published. Throughout the experience, we also get to see how these recipes inspired and ignited the career of a struggling writer. Culinary Consultant Susan Spungen, who has worked closely with Martha Stewart in the past and is an accomplished cook, food stylist, and recipe developer in her own right, is responsible for the many dishes we see on screen. Her perfected hand in recreating a lot of these recipes make the film a savory treat that will have you salivating out the door of the theater and into the nearest gourmet restaurant. You can literally smell the deliciousness wafting off the screen.
Spungen held court at the California School of Culinary Arts last Thursday afternoon, where she took us through some of her own signature recipes. She was joined by master chef Brian Malarkey, executive and operating partner of The Oceanaire Seafood Room in San Diego. He also happens to be one of BRAVO-TV's "Top Chef 3 Miami" finalists. Together, with novelist Julie Powell and co-star of Julie & JuliaChris Messina, who plays Julie's on-screen husband Eric, the four of them took us on a slober-inducing tour of the film's culinary delights. After an inspiring cheese platter, Chef Malarkey pulled Powell into the kitchen for a quick cooking demonstration in which one of the film's tastiest looking entrées, Boeuf Bourguignon, a delightful mix of beef stewed in red wine, with bacon, onions, and mushrooms, was thrown together in one of the tastiest bowls ever set in front of a well feed journalist. Attempting to keep his mushrooms from over-crowding while browning, Chef Malarkey was able to quiz Powell about her life both on-screen and off. He proved to not only be an amazing chef, but also a proficient enough interviewer as well. When asked if she was happy with the choice of Amy Adams, who stars as Powell in Julie & Julia, the woman responded with, "I guess Amy Adams will do. Being played by a lean, little red-headed Oscar winning, amazing actress is fine."
During the chat, Chef Brian coaxed Powell into patting down his beef. Together, they worked quickly to concoct their hearty, drool-inducing mix. The most striking thing about Julie's blog and book is that she never got her much-needed blessing from Julia Child. Near the end of the film, she receives a phone call explaining that Child is not happy with the blog. It's a sad moment in the film, but Malarkey approached the subject with a lot of heart, "I think there was a misinterpretation. If anyone can cook every single one of her recipes, that proves you have a lot of spirit. There should be an award of excellence handed out to you. I think there was a misinterpretation there, if anything. As far as I know, you are amazing." Throughout the cooking demonstration, the two food auteurs continued to chitchat about Julia Child and her inspiriting works of food art.
When visiting Julia Child's Smithsonian exhibit, Powell did in fact leave a stick of butter under one of her pictures as a shrine, as seen in the film, "I did indeed do that. I left the butter at the shrine. That is all true. I was terrified when I did that. I thought the Smithsonian people were going to chase me out of the museum. I just left it there and ran away." It is one of the cuter moments found in the movie, and acts as a bridge between the two women. "I think if Julia Child and I had met, she would have dug me. I can live with it." To round up this particular cooking demonstration, Chef Malarkey had Julie decorate a chocolate silk pie.
With the Boeuf Bourguignon bubbling up to steamy perfection, Susan Spungen stepped into the kitchen demonstration area to show off her on-screen French onion soup. The woman is a world-renowned cook, author, and food stylist. And she was responsible for making each scrumptious morsel of food shown on screen during Ephron's aromatic comedy. "Ephron called me personally on the phone. She said, 'This is Nora.' I thought it was one of my friends kidding around. She felt bad that I hadn't responded to her email, which I never got. We talked, and we met. There was no way I was going to say no to this movie. Partly because of my love for cooking and Julia Child."
Spungen took us through the way food is prepared for a movie. "A lot of people think that the food is fake. Or sprayed with lacquer. That is not the case. Everything you see in this movie is real food. The actors had to eat it in every scene. It had to taste good and look good, and it couldn't make them ill. Sometimes, the actors had to eat the food fifty times. It sometimes takes an entire day to shoot a scene, and they have to eat all the food." One of the most important scenes in the film is a montage where Julie and Julia are experiencing a same food euphoria. Spungen held up her copy of the script, "Julia eats onion soup, and the cheese extends from the soup to her lips...Boning a duck may have struck fear in the heart of Julie Powell, but making this onion soup extent from the soup to her lips struck fear in my heart. There were a lot of variables. The soup had to be a certain temperature. But it couldn't be so hot that the actor burned their mouth. The cheese had to be a certain temperature, the soup had to be a certain temperature. Our cooking area was off from the set, and was actually pretty far away. So, I will show you how I did it."
Susan pulled an electric paint remover out from under the stove, bringing its glowing orange head above the cooling soup. "We were far, far away from the kitchen, so I had to use this. It fascinated a lot of the people on set. I had to let the soup cool down quite a bit. I also had to add mozzarella to the cheese to get the perfect string. When I did this for the camera, it was on the last night of shooting. It was one of those shots that we kept not getting to. Finally, I realized that this could turn out to be thirty takes. It might not work. But it worked perfectly the first time. I think we did two takes. But it wasn't something that was guaranteed to work."
"We were there for thirty days. We were always in the kitchen. We shot the Amy Adams stuff first. There was a week were they shot interiors, then we went back into the kitchen for all of the Julia stuff. We were there all of the time. We had an opportunity to test these things on set." The nice, big cheese pull is the one scene that will put the viewer over the edge while watching the film. Especially for lovers of melted, gooey cheese dishes. Even if you've made it this far through the screening without your belly rumbling, this one moment is sure to put you over the edge (just writing about it made me go get some cheese out of the refrigerator).
What was Spungen's favorite dish in the film? "I have to say, it's the Boeuf Bourguignon. I think it's a dish that really stands up. I have a version of it in my cookbook. And I think it's a great dinner party dish. I like things a little messy." If Spungen had to sum up the state of culinary affairs at this moment in time, she offers this witty bon mot, "Messy is the new black." After Spungen's presentation, the Boeuf Bourguignon still wasn't quite ready. So, to help stave off the wait, Julie Powell brought actor Chris Messina out to chat with us about his experiences with food and the movie.
As it turns out, Messina has yet to meet Julie's husband, whom he plays in the film. "Nora, Amy, and I discussed meeting Julie and Eric. But we thought we shouldn't, because then we would only be doing an imitation of these guys. We were taking what Julie wrote and we were making it ours. I read the book. And I listened to the audio book. Eric was so well described in that audio book, I thought it was all made very clear." What about Chris' admiration for Julia Child?
"I didn't know too much about Julia Child before doing the film. I knew that she was inspiring. I knew that she cooked, and that people loved her. I didn't realize how remarkable a woman she was. Going inside the film, I only knew of her. I knew the Dan Aykroyd impersonation. By doing this film, I got really into her. Unfortunately, I didn't get to do anything in the movie with Julia. But I got to learn through Amy all about it." How did he deal with the amount of food being offered up on screen, "It was kind of extraordinary to eat these great dishes every day. I had to learn how to balance it. There was one day when I ate 37 bruschettas. I had a bucket next to me, and I would spit them out. At the beginning, I thought I would just keep eating. The first seven were delicious. But then it got terrible. I had my bucket, and I started to complain. But Ephron would yell in, 'Robert DeNiro would do it!' I learned not to eat the night before. I learned not to eat in the morning. By like 7 or 8 at night, I would be eating lobsters. When I got to the scene I was starving. I have an eating disorder right now."
Though Powell is pretty handy at throwing around the exalted F-word in here book, they kept clear of that for the movie. She explained why, "Its rated PG-13. You get one fuck. That is all you get. Chris had one, and they cut it. I knew going in that the movie would be a little softer than the book. It is a romantic comedy. It is supposed to be a little sweeter. Amy Adams is so adorable. She is so cute and not me. This is not the book. That is just something that you have to do. You have to give it away, and they make it new." Even though it was her life being portrayed on screen, Powell says her contributions were limited, "I had a few lunches with Nora Ephron. The first day she had the whole blog printed up on pink paper. She had everything marked up, and she asked me scary questions. She is a scary woman. She said, 'This scene here? It didn't happen. This is bullshit, right?' I said, 'Maybe.' Basically, she asked me a whole bunch of questions, and then it was out of my hands. Which is fine with me. She is a very talented woman."
The only thing that really bothered Powell about the finished product? "I would never have one of my characters say 'the f-word'. That is just a little niggly thing. Julie says it in the scene where she finds out that Julie doesn't like her. That is my one problem. Just say 'fuck'. Don't say 'the f-word'. I would never say that." Finally, the Boeuf Bourguignon was ready to be consumed. And I must admit, I had two bowls. It was quite heavenly, and made the whole experience worthwhile.
You'll be able to experience all the joy and laughter that is Julie & Julia when it hits theater screens on August 7th, 2009.