(NOTE: Julie & Julia is two stories in one movie: That of Julia Child
, world-acclaimed chef, author and teacher; and Julie Powell
, struggling would-be writer and student of Julia. The two women never meet, and their stories do not intersect.)
The camera pans from a crane down to a shipping dock, where a French car with diplomatic plates and many boxes sit. Paul Child (Stanley Tucci
) is driving his wife, Julia (Meryl Streep
) into Paris, in the year 1949. They stop for a meal at a restaurant, and Julia is amazed at the taste of a fish that's been prepared for her. Julia is taken in at the sights of Paris and the home they will be living in.
We switch to Queens, New York City, in 2002. A number of French cookbooks are packed into a box and placed in the rear hold of a compact Jeep. Julie Powell (Amy Adams
) rides with her husband, Eric (Chris Messina
), as they are relocating from Brooklyn to Queens. Eric reassures Julie that Queens will be beautiful, although the sight of the small walk-up located right above a pizzeria leaves Julie unsure. She lets her cat out and starts unpacking with Eric as the moving truck arrives behind them. Shortly after, Julie is in her kitchen making dinner. Some of the boxes and their contents are falling down from shelves on which they've been hastily placed. Eric again tries to reassure his wife; the apartment is still 900 total square feet, much bigger than their original apartment, and it's close to Eric's office (we could still renege on the lease and live in the Jeep, Eric jokingly offers).
Julie walks to a train that brings her to Chambers Street in Manhattan, and her job doing customer service at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, not far from Ground Zero where the World Trade Center was recently destroyed. LMDC provides assistance to survivors of the disaster and their families, and Julie does her best to maintain composure among many angry clients that slog through bureaucratic inefficiency. Julie finds herself struggling with her own supervisor while trying to get some extra help for a woman whose young son breathed in contaminated fumes.
Walking to the train station en route home, Julie passes by a store offering chocolate cream pie, and comforts herself in her kitchen by making one. Eric brings her a drink and licks the spoon clean. Julie likes to cook, feeling more in control of her life while in her kitchen, and Eric appears to be a doting and supportive husband.
The next day, Julie meets some friends in a diner for lunch-- ritual Cobb salad day where they each order a Cobb salad, each holding on one different ingredient. Although she likes the three women she's dining with, Julie finds herself a little out of place, as each of them are in much higher-paying and higher-valued jobs than Julie is: one is a realtor, one is a corporate publicist, and one is a writer-- all three of them unable to get off their mobile phones with assistants or making memos. Annabelle (Jillian Bach
), the writer, arranges to meet Julie for breakfast to interview her for an article she's writing on their current generation that's just turning thirty.
Julie's face is shown as one of four on the front page of New York magazine, for Annabelle's article, "Is 30 the new 20?" Browsing at a bookstore, Julie fumes over the portrayal of her in the article, particularly how her life has not been the upwardly-mobile, story-of-success that many of her college classmates thought was in her future. Again, she comforts herself in her kitchen at home, where she feels in control. Talking with Eric as she cooks dinner, Julie notes that Annabelle is writing a blog about herself online. Eric encourages Julie to write one for herself, as unlike the novel she stopped working on halfway when no publisher was interested, with a blog, you can publish yourself. The question is, what to blog about that anyone would be interested in following. A blog is something Julie would do to escape the hum-drum of her job, like she does with cooking. As an editor, Eric feels she's onto something: blog about cooking. Julie, an admirer of Julia Child, doesn't think she's a match for any acclaimed chef... but comes up with a challenge for herself: to cook her way through one of Julia's cookbooks. Julie reminiscing about her mother making one of Julia's recipes for dinner when hosting the boss of Julie's father, makes Eric smile. The two watch one of Julia's videos later and Julie is enchanted at watching one of her idols at work. Eric starts coming on to his wife as the video ends.
Julie decides to go through with the project of cooking all the recipes in Julia's signature cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
She wants to give herself a deadline, as a motivator to finish the project. Although Eric's suggestion of one year seems daunting, as Julia's book has 524 recipes, Julie decides to go through with it. Eric helps her set up the blog, which Julie names, 'The Julie/Julia project.' Julie's Day 1 of the blog is August 11, 2002.
Julia Child shops in an open-street farmers market in France. Although Paul writes to his brother that the French are famously grouchy, Julia proves otherwise in her interactions with many warm, large-hearted Parisian villagers in the suburban parts of the large city. Both Paul and Julia are American-born, but Julia has taken to Paris as if she'd been raised there. Paul works as an exhibits officer for the U.S. government, and he and Julia are having dinner at a cozy restaurant after a successful arts exhibit Paul hosted. Julia has also worked for the OSS, like Paul, but has left that behind and is looking for something to do with her life. Many French women are homemakers, something Julia is not content with. When Paul asks what Julia really likes to do, she laughs, embarrassed, as she says she enjoys eating.
Julia tries a number of hobbies, including lessons in hat-making, playing bridge, and French books and learning to read and speak French, particularly after being unable to find a French cookbook written in English. While she and Paul are dining with friends, he gives her a cookbook as a birthday gift, although, like all French cookbooks, it's written in French. Paul is supportive of all Julia does, including her lessons in speaking French. As the two ready themselves for bed, starting to feel romantic with each other, Julia has an idea of going to cooking school.
Julie has started the cooking project on August 13th, and she and Eric are loving the results. They're eating well, and Julie discusses her love of butter, a key ingredient in French cooking-- several one-pouund sticks are at the front of her refrigerator. The first couple of weeks go smoothly, and cooking Julia's recipes brings Julie much-needed respite from her day job. She spends a large portion of her most recent paycheck at the local Dean & DeLuca's. Julie's mother calls to ask about the blog, and tries to dissuade her. Julie makes a mistake in telling her mother that the blog is all she has, while Eric is close enough to overhear.
Julie continues working, and together with Eric and Sarah (Mary Lynn Rajskub
), Julie's sister, finally makes a poached egg, which tastes far better than Julie feared any egg would ever taste.
Five weeks into the project, Julie feels great and is energized to continue, although she wonders if anyone is reading and has noticed her. She's excited at finding she has a comment, but is disappointed when it's just her mother asking if anyone else is reading the blog.
Julia has enrolled in the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, but feels the first lesson on boiling eggs is too basic. Madame Brassart (Joan Juliet Buck
), the headmaster, says there's one other class available, but it's expensive, and 'for professionals--' are the other pupils are male GI's. Julia enrolls, and struggles at first; the head chef patiently showing her how to hold and work a knife to chop onions. Julia practices on a batch of onions at home, making Paul wonder if Julia is more occupied with proving she can hold her own against the men pupils who don't appear to take her seriously. Perhaps she is-- Julia is very pleased with herself as she begins matching and outpacing the other pupils in the class, and her instructor praises her. Julia writes about her progress, three weeks later, with a close pen-pal, Avis De Voto. She's loving her classes, slowly winning respect from her classmates, and having the time of her life, even though Madame Brassart appears to dislike Julia very strongly. She enjoys spending time in the streetside farmer's markets the way most American women love shopping for dresses-- although, as the 6'2" Julia notes, nothing local comes big enough to fit her. Julia knows she's found her career, and almost faints in ecstasy as Paul buys her a cooking mortar and pestle, something her instructor said was critical in proper cooking.
Hosting friends for dinner on Valentine's Day, Paul and Julia talk about their past diplomatic work in the OSS, where they met while both stationed in Ceylon. Paul suddenly brings up the day he knew that Julia was the love of his life, and makes a toast to her that brings Julia to tears of joy.
A scene where Paul writes a letter to his brother while watching Julia cooking at home, now with the precision and speed of a master, transitions into Julie reading something to Eric, that Paul overheard Julia say about cooking cannolis. Julie's blog is starting to slowly gain attention and more people are commenting. A number of people, who have become fans of Julie's, are even sending her non-perishable goods to use in her cooking project. By 47 days into the cooking project, she completes 65 recipes. She continues working, cooking and blogging even while at home with a cold, and Eric helps her with some of the projects. 59 days in, she's completed 87 recipes, and a week or so later, 103 recipes. Julie is saving some of the more daunting recipes for later, including lobster thermidor. which Julie particularly frets over as it involves buying fresh, live lobsters at a fish shop. Julie finally cooks the dish on her thirtieth birthday, and Eric again helps her when she freaks out over the live lobsters knocking the lid off of the boiling pot.
For the birthday party, Julie talks about letters that Julia wrote to Avis, and that Paul wrote to his brother; much of the correspondence never having been discarded and eventually put into memoirs. Julie's sister and brother-in-law suggest she place an application on her blog that will accept monetary donations via Paypal, if any interested readers and fans of her blog were so inclined. As a birthday gift, Eric gives Julie an imitation pearl necklace, which resembles one of many real ones Julia often wore. Julie falls asleep on the couch and Eric lets her sleep there when he goes to bed.
The next day at work, Julie finds 53 comments from readers on her lobster blog, much to her delight-- and it gets better when Eric, at first posing as a crank caller as a joke, tells her that her blog is the third most popular in a recent poll on the website salon.com.
Julia is at a social event where she is introduced to Simone Beck (Linda Emond
) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey
), who she learns are writing a cookbook for Americans; something that piques Julia's interest. Julia is ready to graduate Cordon Bleu, but can't get Madame Brassart to schedule the test-- Brassart, who Simone calls a 'bitch,' is probably the only person who detests Julia; a feeling Julia considers mutual. Simone and Louisette assure Julia that getting the diploma is not something she really needs in order to teach cooking. Julia mentions that her pen-pal, Avis, tells her the same thing, but Julia is conventional enough to want the diploma anyway.
Simone and Louisette come up with the idea of writing Madame Brassart a letter in which Julia would boldly state that the American ambassador is displeased with Brassart's dragging her feet on the final exam. At first, Julia is too embarrassed at the idea, as she doesn't truly know the ambassador. But finally she writes the letter, and Brassart issues the exam-- but craftily ensures Julia fails by writing the French names for several recipes Julia has to write out; French names the American woman still isn't familar with. Simone and Louisette arrange for Julia to request to re-take the exam while helping them teach a class for Americans living in Paris. This is something that Brassart, when she learns of it, finds very funny.
Julie makes a late January 2003 entry in her blog about aspics; a beef-flaved gelatin mold that, from the description, doesn't sound appealing to her... not to mention, she messes up while making them. This leads to an argument with Eric. A few days later, she has another accident while preparing another dish and gets emotional again. But as Julie lays on the floor and cries, a reporter from the Christian Science Monitor calls and Eric tells Julie that the reporter wants to write an article about her. Stunned, Julie gets up and takes the call, and is even more amazed when she learns she's been invited to host a particular guest for dinner one night.
Julia is with Simone and Louisette, setting up the kitchen where they will be teaching. Soon they're tutoring three American women who pay $2 an hour-- barely covers the expenses, but "Les Trois Gourmandes," as Julia tells her sister, Dorothy, in a written letter, are enjoying being culinary teachers too much to care. The only downside is Louisette starts to have 'headaches' and doctor's appointments, and misses out when Dorothy (Jane Lynch
) comes to France to visit Julia and Paul. Of course, a bistro is the first place they take Dorothy to, where they talk about Julia's love of food and fine dining, vis-a-vis their father's wish that the two sisters could have married Republicans and settled in Pasadena; as Dorothy, a woman every bit as tall as Julia, notes, women their size simply didn't fit in. But Julia and Paul know a man even taller than Dorothy is; someone they plan to introduce to her at a party... which backfires, because by the time the man arrives, Dorothy has struck up a conversation with a man named Ivan Cousins (Michael Brian Dunn
), who's several inches shorter than Dorothy... and the two fall in love and soon are married. This brings Julia and Paul into contact with Julia and Dorothy's father, John McWilliams (Remak Ramsay
), who doesn't care for either of his daughters' marriages.
Only a short time after Dorothy and Ivan have returned home to America, Julia gets a letter telling her that Dorothy is pregnant... something that moves Julia to tears, as she is already past child-bearing age, and her one regret is that she and Paul couldn't have children of their own.
Julia gets other news lunching with Simone and Louisette: their cookbook was turned down by publishers, who have suggested they bring in a collaborator who could make it work for American cooks; translating some of the words and terms into something Americans who have no training in French, can more easily understand. Julia, of course, is delighted to work with them in doing so.
Julie writes in her blog about the dinner guest she's hosting, inviting her readers to guess who it is. Despite a few clues, nobody is correct, so Julie reveals that she's hosting Judith Jones, who, as an editor with the Knopf publishing company, helped get Julia's signature cookbook published. In honor of the occasion, Julie will be making bouef bourguignon; the same one of Julia's recipes that Judith cooked herself in order to put the cookbook to the test, a little over forty years before. Julie will be hosting Judith at ten P.M., and so begins cooking the dish at the same time the previous night; watching a Saturday Night Live
episode that pokes fun at Julia's cooking TV show, The French Chef
while waiting. But again, Julie falls asleep on the couch after the show ends, doesn't hear the timer going off, and is awakened by the sound of a fire engine, realizing she's burned the dish.
Julia is starting work on reworking the cookbook when Paul presents her with a serious question. Julia would need about two years to finish, and Paul's current assignment at the Embassy will only continue for eight more months. He's nearly certain he will be transferred out of Paris at that point. Still, they both agree, they have some time yet before they have to worry about it. Julia begins work and sends parts of the book to Avis as she completes them.
Julia and Simone go to visit Louisette who introduces them to Irma Rombauer (Frances Sternhagen
), who wrote the famous cookbook, The Joy of Cooking
. Irma's story, about having been swindled out of a lot of royalty money by a publisher who claimed the copyright for themselves, gives Julia a lot of concern about how to get published. But Paul is holding a letter for Julia, from Avis, which, when Julia opens it, finds that Avis showed the manuscript Julia had sent her, to an editor at Houghton-Mifflin, who is interested in publishing the book and is offering a $250 advance, with $500 more when the book is first published.
Julie writes about her blunder with the bouef bourguignon in her blog, and that the stomach cramps made her call in sick (Eric admonishes her to write that she went right to bed for several hours, in case someone at her job reads the entry). Julie waits until noon to buy the ingredients to make the dish again, along with raspberry bavarian creme for dessert. Come early evening, Julie is ready to host Judith... only to find that the rainy weather, which the now, much older Judith can't travel in, has forced a cancellation of the dinner. Worse, another fight with Eric starts when he starts to eat some of the dish and then puts some salt on it, which Julie takes as a sign that he thought it was bland. The argument escalates over Eric having come to regret suggesting the blog project, as Julie has become self-absorbed in it to the point of narcissism. Eric grabs a few things and leaves the house.
Eight months have passed for Julia and Paul, and he's being transferred to Marseilles, as a Cultural Affairs Commissioner for southern France. She tries to be brave about it, but is devastated at leaving a city she's come to love dearly. Soon enough, they're in Germany, and the deadline on their book has to be extended two more years. Paul is then called to Washington, which he's nervous about, although Julia tries to imagine they'll promote him and send him back to Paris. Meanwhile, Julia and Simone have decided that Louisette has been too inactive a partner for an equal royalty share, and they want to renegotiate the split. It starts to go badly when Louisette reveals her husband is leaving her, and finally Simone has to do what she first thought she couldn't.
Julia then finds out the price of her naivete; Paul was called to Washington to be investigated by some of Senator McCarthy's cronies. He's acquitted of any kind of charges, but is emotionally drained and weary from the fiasco. He has one more posting and then plans to retire, and wonders what to do from there. Now it is Julia being supportive and brave for Paul, after all the times he was for her.
Julie wakes up alone and writes in her blog, though she reconsiders and removes the part about Eric walking out on her after the fight. She writes she's taking the Bavarian cream to the office-- only to find she didn't pack it properly and it soaks through the bag while she's walking past the World Trade Center Memorial, splattering along the ground. If that wasn't enough, Julie's boss finds out about her little deception over the stew and figured out that she lied about calling in sick. He tells her that he's forgiving her and letting her keep her job, with no disciplinary action, but makes it clear that the blog is not to include anything regarding her day job with LMDC in the future, and she needs to tell him the whole truth next time.
After meeting Sarah at a bar and talking with her, Julie writes in her blog that she realizes that despite having some things in common with Julia, she's come to understand that she hasn't lived up to Julia's standards in a lot of ways. She realizes Julia never lost it after not making something right, and Julie owns up to having behaved very badly to Eric, saying that right now, she doesn't deserve him after all the support he gave her. She calls Eric, though he doesn't answer, but then he reads her blog entry. Julie's mother calls and encourages Julie not to give up on the cooking project, saying it would be good for her to finish.
Julie gets out of bed and goes to the supermarket to pick up some food to prepare. As she returns, Eric is coming back home, and they reconcile.
Julia is with Simone at a train station in Boston where she'll be meeting Avis De Voto (Deborah Rush
) for the first time. They'd been writing for eight years as pen-pals, as Julia tells the story, but this is their first time meeting. Avis brings them to the offices of Houghton Mifflin, where they're told the cookbook is too long to interest American housewives-- not to mention, it's not even the whole work. They are asking for revisions to be more appealing to American women who don't have anyone to do the cooking for them.
Avis tells Julia and Simone they'll sent the work to another publisher and cut off talk with Houghton-Mifflin, although Julia feels they do need to condense and shorten the manuscript-- something Julia will be able to work on while she and Paul are in Oslo.
A montage of scenes are shown showing Julia cooking more dishes and typing, and Julie cooking those same dishes for the project and continuing to blog.
Julie hosts Amanda Hesser
(played by herself), from the New York Times, for dinner and to talk about the blog and about her cooking. Julie is fifteen days shy of the one-year deadline, wih twenty-four recipes to go, including boning a duck. After the project is over, she and Eric plan to visit the Smithsonian Museum which has a full-size and scale replica of Julia Child's kitchen from her home in Cambridge, MA, where she and Paul lived after returning to America. Julie sees the article in the Times, including a photo of her, several times while on her way to work and at lunch, and is pleased. She brings home a stack of copies of that day's Times to find sixty-five messages on her answering machine; her name has exploded onto the map and people are lining up to talk about representing her and helping her write a book based on her blog.
But the moment is tempered by bitter news from Barry Ryan, from the Santa Barbara News-Press, who's writing an article about Julia Child's 90th birthday. Barry brings the news that he's asked Julia Child about Julie's blog-- and Julia was 'in a pill about it,' and Barry is asking if Julie has any comment. Julie takes the call, and after finishing it, miserably tells Eric, "Julia hates me."
Paul comes home and finds a morose Julia looking at a letter from Houghton-Mifflin. The difficulties in publishing a manuscript as large as Julia's, has her wondering what to do with herself now, if she can't publish her cookbook. Paul reminds her that she's still a teacher, and although she finds the idea more funny than inspiring, Paul insists she can host a television show on cooking. Her husband's gentle insistence that her work is going to make waves and inspire people, makes Julia feel much better and she rests her head on his chest.
Meanwhile, Avis, undeterred by the reluctance of Houghton-Mifflin, submits the cookbook manuscript to the Alfred A. Knopf publishing company. One of the senior editors brings the manuscript to Judith Jones (Erin Dilly
). Although Judith thinks the tentative title, 'French Recipes for American Cooks,' inadequate, her supervisor finds the manuscript intriguing, and she does too.
We see the scene that Julie blogged about: Judith in her kitchen at home, cooking bouef bourguignon from the recipe. One taste of the food and Judith is a believer.
Paul and Julia have settled in their home in Cambridge, and are unpacking. It's the fall of 1960. The Postal Service brings Julia a letter marked special delivery. Julia opens the letter and bursts with excitement at the news that Knopf wants to publish the book, and they're offering an advance of $1500. Paul comes running out at Julia's out-of-breath shouts and he's promptly as excited as he is. Judith compares the book to Rombauer's The Joy of Cooking
, and that Knopf intends to market it in the same way. Julia meets with Judith in the Knopf offices where Judith is helping come up with a good title for the book. She has a number of small pieces of paper thumbtacked on a cork wall, which she moves around to put various word combination ideas together. In this matter, she and Julia christen the book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
In their bedroom, Eric comforts Julie, who's still miserable after what she'd heard from Barry Ryan. Although it's unsure if Julia read Julie's blog, it's clear she didn't appreciate the project, feeling Julie wasn't truly serious about it. Eric tells his wife that there are two Julia Childs-- the real one, and the one in Julie's head, whom she venerates as her heroine. That Julia Child is the one that really matters.
Julie writes in her blog on the last day of the project; the one-year anniversary. The most daunting recipe in Julie's mind is all that remains; a boned duck in a pastry crust. Julie watches a video in her kitchen, using the guidance given by Julia in the video to make the cut along the backbone of the duck. When the cut comes out correct, Julie is pleased, and follows the rest of the recipe to cook the dish, exactly as it looks in the instructional video.
Eric and Julie are setting up a table on the roof of the building where they're hosting the dinner for their family and closest friends. Julie's given a round of applause as she proudly serves the duck. Everyone loves the dish, and they laud Julie's success.
Julie taps her glass with her fork and stands to issue a toast for her husband. Julie repeats the words used by Paul Child some fifty years prior in toasting his wife: 'You are the butter to my bread, the breath to my life.' Eric is moved, and tells Julie that he loves her.
Before retiring to bed, Julie writes the final entry in her blog to mark the completion of the project. 365 days, 524 recipes. Julie finishes the blog with Julia Child's signature phrase, 'Bon Appetit.'
Washington, D.C., at the Smithsonian Institute; Eric and Julie are visiting the exhibit showing a replica of Julia Child's kitchen in Cambridge. Beside the exhibit is a photo of Julia and a small log where people can sign to show they were there. Eric takes a few photos of Julie by the photo, and then Julie takes a one-pound stick of butter out of her purse and leaves it by the stand where the log book is, telling Julia that she loves her.
The camera pans over to the model kitchen, and the scene shifts to the real kitchen in the Child home, in 1961. Julia is cooking dinner when Paul comes home. Paul says a package has arrived for Julia. Julia opens it and laughs in delight at the first copy of her cookbook in print. Paul laughs appreciaively, proud of her achievements, as Julia celebrates.
A final series of title cards say that Paul and Julia passed away in their early 90's, in 1994 and 2004 respectively. Julie and Eric Powell still live in Queens, although in a better living arrangement than over the pizzeria; Julie is now a writer.
Her blog was published as a book, titled Julie & Julia, in 2005.
The book was made into a movie.