Kathy and I lost the week-long vacation to the Black Hills that we had planned for this week – thanks to a whole host of issues and concerns that made it impossible for us to leave town after all. Yesterday was the closest we had to a complete day off, so we spent it having various flavors of fun – breakfast with her Cousin Linda, walking the dogs along the beach at Carthage, doing laundry, supper at Lone Star to celebrate Polly’s birthday (at last!) . . . and the day climaxed with a movie that ranks right up there with the best I have ever seen. . . or at least one of the happiest.
I’m talking about “Julia & Julie” – a film I trust you have heard about. Let me just add my paltry little voice to the rising chorus of praise from audiences and critics alike who find so much to love about this little film. First of all, there is the story of a frustrated young woman in New York City who decides to try and cook all 524 recipes found in Julia Child’s classic book about French cooking – all 524 in the course of a single calendar year. . . and blogs about it as she goes. And it is also the story of Julia Child herself and the way in which she rather accidentally stumbles into the world of French cooking and in doing so remakes herself and much of American cuisine by teaching Americans how to cook great food – and inspiring generations of men and women who came after her.
I recently interviewed the author of a book about the marketing of food (the title escapes me at the moment) and he talks about the brilliant job that was done by Swanson and other companies to pedal their T.V. Dinners as the best thing a wife and mother could possibly give her family for dinner. . . despite the fact that in terms of sheer quality, a TV dinner was to home-cooking what a jalopy was to a Cadillac- absolutely no comparison. But T.V. dinners were seen as incredibly modern- a sign of the exciting scientific times in which people lived- and as the paragon of convenience and efficiency. One of the most remarkable things about Julia Child is that she came along just as this new way of thinking about food was really taking hold in America – and she almost single-handedly reminded ordinary Americans that they not only deserved great, delicious food. . . but they were fully capable of cooking it – even if they were “servant- less.”
Anyway, Julia Child was such a remarkable human being – and this extraordinary career of hers pretty much began right around her 50th birthday. . . and as a man of 49 I find that kind of a story to be especially gratifying. And one of the reasons why she succeeded so splendidly, I think, is that she was an incredibly courageous and determined person – but also full of good humor and joie de vivre. Those qualities aren’t bundled together in the same package all that often, but they were with her. And those qualities just radiate off of the screen, thanks to the wonderfully written screenplay of this film . . . and thanks perhaps even more to the astonishing performance of Meryl Streep. This woman has delivered one spectacular performance after another . . . Kramer vs. Kramer, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Sophie’s Choice, Silkwood, The Devil Wears Prada, Doubt. . . just to touch on a few . . . but what she does in this film is truly amazing. Everyone in the country knows Julia Child, and Meryl Streep had to somehow embody her convincingly enough that we would be swept along in the story. And we are! I couldn’t believe how thoroughly that happened – and for that reason I think I would have to call this perhaps the crowning achievement of Meryl Streep’s career. And by the way, there are some really poignant moments – especially regarding the matter of Julia and her husband being unable to have children. For once an important subplot is treated with subtlety and reticence, which makes their sadness all the more potent for us. But mostly this is a film that bubbles over with joy and good feeling – and both Kathy and I found ourselves beaming for long stretches of time. . . much as I remember doing at the very first Harry Potter movie. This movie couldn’t be more different than that one in plot and purpose, but both films were alike in how exhausted my smile muscles were by the end.
It’s also a bit about Blogging . . . to which I can relate, even if my humble little Blog is but the tiniest little blip in the Blogosphere . . . and about the wonders of cooking, to which I can barely relate at all. (For me, spreading jam on toast is a culinary undertaking.) It’s about forging ahead in the face of disappointments. And it’s about cheering on one’s spouse and of the special delight to be found in that sort of teamwork. And by the way, it’s a movie which does not culminate in any sort of gigantic event … some grand alignment of the stars …. some enormous catharsis …. and that’s one of the things I liked most about it.
As we left the theater, I told Kathy in all seriousness that I thought it would be really fun to find this classic cookbook by Julia Child (which is currently in its 49th printing, according to the film) and make the delicious beef recipe that is one of the first in the book and one of its touchstones. Of course, with the summer dwindling away with bewildering speed, I don’t know how likely it is that we will find time for such fun. But even just thinking about doing it is its own sort of fun – although actually doing it would be the most fun of all. And it would be our little way of thanking Julia Child for showing several generations of Americans how glorious food can be when we think about more than its convenience and quickness. And this is being said by a guy who eats out every breakfast, most every lunch, and quite a few suppers – and who does most of his eating behind the steering wheel of his car, at least during the school year. For a guy like me – Greg “I’ll Take it to Go” Berg – it is rather revolutionary to be thinking so much about Cooking. But such is the power and charisma of Julia Child that even a culinary lump like me finds himself reaching for the mixing bowls.
pictured above: Until I have a chance to replace it with an image from the movie, I am using the only photograph of food that I have in iPhoto right now. This can of Spam is one of the trophies given out at the most recent Volunteers Recognition Dinner for the Racine Theater Guild. Long story.