Viewer Guide: Julie & Julia and Darling Companion with Richard Peña

October 19, 2018 | Richard Peña

Your weekly peek into what’s coming up next on REEL 13, written by host Richard Peña.

REEL 13 CLASSIC | JULIE & JULIA

This week’s classic is Julie & Julia, from 2009, written and directed by Nora Ephron.

The film follows two women through two different decades in two different countries. Meryl Streep plays Julia Child, happily married but in search of a purpose during her years in post-war Paris. Amy Adams plays Julie Powell, a post-9/11 New Yorker, about to turn 30, married to a lovely man, but also in search of a purpose.

Their paths cross, figuratively, when Julie Powell, an avid amateur cook, decides to chop and sauté her way through Julia Child’s entire Mastering the Art of French Cooking, imposing a deadline of exactly one year, and blogging about her culinary triumphs and disasters along the way.

Nora Ephron read about Julie Powell’s quest in the New York Times. She liked the story, and thought it might make a good film but wasn’t sure how to adapt it. Enter producer Amy Robinson. Robinson was sitting on her couch watching an A&E biography of Julia Child and thought, “What a great love story this is.” It was her idea to combine Julie and Julia’s stories, and Nora Ephron was brought on as writer-director.

Ephron had been writing about food since the 70s. A longtime fan of Julia Child, Ephron even bought her own copper pots at the same Paris store, Dehilleron, where Julia had bought hers.

Ephron looked to Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France, which focused on her time in Paris: learning French, learning to cook, beginning to teach and to work on her book, combining it with Powell’s blog – the director actually printed out the entire year’s entries. Ephron began making extensive notes as she identified and exploited the women’s parallels and patterns: Julia moves to Paris; Julie moves to Queens. Julia’s writing brings her husband closer; Julie’s blog drives her husband crazy. Julia cooks with confidence; Julie shudders at aspic and fears lobster.

Meryl Streep was Nora Ephron’s first and only choice to play Julia Child. The two had worked together before: Ephron wrote the screenplays for Silkwood and Heartburn. Her performance in Julia & Julia brought Streep her 16th Oscar nomination, but it came at a cost. The 15 pounds she gained during filming took her almost a year and a half to get rid of.

It was Streep’s idea to bring Stanley Tucci on as Julia’s devoted husband, Paul. Ephron’s team was so thorough in its preparation for the film that it’s actually Paul Child’s suitcase being loaded into the car as the film opens.

Julie & Julia was shot on location throughout Manhattan and Queens, as well as in Paris and Rouen – the town where Julia Child had the culinary epiphany which changed her life: sole meunière.

Although her filmography was not that extensive, Nora Ephron left a powerful legacy in American cinema. Her screenplay for Silkwood was very much a wake-up call for the American anti-nuclear power movement, while movies such as When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle helped re-define romantic comedy. Beloved by her actors, she has been the subject of many tributes around the world since her untimely death in 2012.

 REEL 13 INDIE | DARLING COMPANION

This week’s indie is Darling Companion, a 2012 comedy-drama directed by Lawrence Kasdan.

With echoes of Kasdan’s seminal 1983 hit The Big Chill, Darling Companion features another ensemble cast story, hinging on the sudden disappearance of a dear friend—except this time around, with paws. Diane Keaton and Kevin Kline star as Beth and Joseph Winter, a longtime married couple in Denver, Colorado, who find themselves confronting the empty nest of late middle age. A successful surgeon, Joseph’s competitive nature still keeps him immersed in his career—but so much so that Beth has come to feel more than a little neglected. However, this emotional void in Beth’s life is unexpectedly filled by her discovery of a stray dog by the side of the highway. Quickly realizing that if she doesn’t adopt the animal herself he will be euthanized, the dog Beth names “Freeway” soon becomes a beloved new family member. But when Freeway goes missing as a result of Joseph’s inattention, his disappearance creates a heightened stress on the vulnerable fault lines already visible in the couple’s relationship.

Also featured are Elisabeth Moss as Beth and Joseph’s daughter, Dianne Wiest as Joseph’s sister, Richard Jenkins as Penny’s new husband, Mark Duplass as Penny’s son, Ayelet Zurer as a psychic housekeeper, and Sam Shepard as the exasperated town sheriff.

Darling Companion has a kind of “funny/sad” quality that Kasdan seems especially talented at conjuring up. We can laugh at Beth’s growing obsession with her new found pet, but when you see her reaction to the dog’s disappearance, her connection to Freeway just points out an aching emptiness she had come to accept as the “new normal” in her life.

The film offered director Lawrence Kasdan the chance to reunite with Kevin Kline, who had starred in Kasdan’s influential hit The Bill Chill in 1983, as well as Grand Canyon in 1991. The film also allowed Kasdan to reteam with his wife Meg on writing the screenplay, after the couple’s prior collaboration on the script for Grand Canyon. After an early career as co-screenwriter of such blockbuster hits as Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Kasdan made a high profile directing debut with Body Heat in 1981. Kasdan’s Star Wars connection has continued up to 2018 with the prequel Solo, about the adventures of the young Han Solo, which he co-wrote with his son Jonathan. He obviously likes keeping it in the family.

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