“Shouldn’t I find something to do?”
This is what Julia Child (Meryl Streep) asks her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) in the beginning of Julie & Julia. They’ve moved to Paris. They’re sitting in a gorgeous French restaurant. Paul has a career in the US embassy and a successful hobby as a photographer. They seem to glow with their love for each other.
But, it’s not quite enough for Julia. As content as she seems, there’s something missing—a passion. That is exactly what she finds when she joins Le Cordon Bleu and learns to bone fish, make pastries, and chop onions faster than anyone else in her class.
Julie & Julia felt like the first movie where I saw a woman allowed to be good at something and take joy in it. Often when a woman is successful in a movie, it comes at the expense of something else—her marriage, her family, her friendships. She has to choose between her child’s birthday and a big presentation, her relationship and the phone call from her boss. But, in Julie & Julia, Julia is not punished for her ambition. Her husband celebrates her success. Her female friends help her and collaborate with her.
The Julie Powell (Amy Adams) half of the film is, perhaps then, not as compelling because she does suffer for her blog’s success. Her husband argues with her. She gets in trouble at her day job when they hear about it. Her female friends can’t be bothered. Her half of the movie lacks the same sense of pleasure and fulfillment that makes Julia’s story shine.
Every scene of Julia cooking is filmed with as much intensity as the climax of a sports movie, when the final goal is scored moments before the buzzer or the runner finally crosses the finish line.
Julia’s joy is the reason why I return to this movie. The last shot is of her in her kitchen, holding up an advanced copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It’s a moment of triumph, free of guilt or regrets. It’s a win for her and a win for women to see a moment like that on screen.