Last night Chef George Mavrothalassitis (and his lovely wife Donna Jung) of Chef Mavro and Columbia Pictures hosted a special advance screening of Julie & Julia—the film adaptation of Julie Powell‘s book about cooking every recipe in Julia Child‘s seminal Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. The book itself was an adaptation of her blog, The Julie/Julia Project. It was a who’s who of island food at the event—Alan Wong, United Fishing Agency’s Brooks Takenaka, Town‘s Ed Kenney and David Caldiero, the Advertiser‘s Wanda Adams, Melissa Chang and Kawehi Haug (my seat mate), the Star Bulletin‘s Betty Shimabukuro, restaurant consultant and food blogger Natalie Aczon, the KCC culinary team that won top honors at the American Culinary Federation National Convention this month, and of course the Chef Mavro crew, including Kevin Chong and Andrew Le.
George Mavrothalassitis made a short introduction, and talked about how he met Julia Child and Jacques Pépin at the Aspen Food+Wine Classic (the two giants of cooking signed on as participants when the magazine become sponsor in 1987). He described Pépin as “a quiet guy and Julia was…WAAOOOWW” as he threw up his hands. It elicited just the first laugh of many last night—Meryl Streep’s turn as the ebullient, larger than life Child is so spot on, and yet still so Meryl.
Every year magazines have an article about how hard it is for actresses to get plum parts past the age of 40. At 60 Streep OWNS this incredible role. From the way she jabbingly shakes a pan to make an omelet, to her sing song pronouncements, Streep captures the kooky, endearing queen of American cooking. And when she bursts into tears every time she sees a baby (Child was childless, much to her dismay), it was pretty hard not to do the same.
The Julia story is juxtaposed—in a way that reveals their parallel universes 50 years apart—with the Julie story. Julie is working for the Ground Zero Redevelopment project in New York and living above a pizza shop with her husband in Queens. The movie gets so right that stable pony feeling of waking up to cram into a subway with your nose in someone’s armpit then spending the day in a cubicle. And doing it again. And again. And meeting up with one-time friends who are now viperish (and vapid) VPs and ladies who lunch—the anti-Sex and the City support group—poking sticks at her wounded pride. She starts her blog to prove that she can finish something, once and for all. To have something. Amy Adams does an admirable job as a woman of the oughts trying to find meaning in life. YET, it’s inevitable that her world of cubicles, blogging and Dean&DeLuca shopping make viewers yearn for the story to switch back to Julia and her 50s shirtdresses, onion-chopping Cordon Bleu escapades and Parisian markets. It’s digital snaps vs Technicolor, and the original always wins.
The movie also has high suspense—I was on the edge of my seat waiting for Julia’s husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) to come out of the closet and leave her. (He doesn’t—but it sure seems like that’s an inevitable part of the story.) And for magazine/newpaper nerds: New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser makes a cameo as herself and former French Vogue editor (and current US Vogue contributor) Joan Juliet Buck plays the evil Cordon Bleu administratrix Mme Brassart (want to know what Marion Cotillard will look like in 40 years?).
Powell became a blogger and Child acolyte for the same reason Child took cooking classes at the Cordon Bleu, while her husband worked at the American Embassy in Paris. Since this is a Nora Ephron film, besides witty dialogue, it’s in the end about finding your bliss. And both women do—cooking a mean beouf bourgignonne (and a lot more) got them book deals, fame and happily-ever-after endings.
OK, back to real life. The scenes of the beouf bourgignonne had me, Kawehi and Lei Ana craving, well, boeuf bourgignonne. It was 9:15pm and we could think of absolutely no options that would be open and satisfy our specific hunger. Korean and Japanese just wouldn’t cut it! We raced to Cafe Sistina, cause I thought a nice lamb or sausage ragù would do in a pinch, but the kitchen was closed. So we wound up at Side Street Inn, where the escargots and sautéed mushrooms kind of did the trick. We sat in the Siberia room, little knowing that Mavrothalassitis and his crew had the same idea and were sitting in the cool-kids room next door! Thanks again for the big-screen treat Chef!
Postscript: Oh, and Julie Powell is still blogging. Only, instead of “The Julie/Julia Project: Nobody here but us servantless American cooks,” it’s under the rubric “What Could Happen? A baleful influence on American English as a whole.” Chronicles of book touring.
And you just know that this film is a marketing bonanza—sales will blow up for Mastering the Art of Cooking (Random House already marred the cover with an image from the movie—you’ll have to find originals on eBay), Julie & Julia the book, and Le Creuset cookware—it is in like every cooking shot.