I have to admit - when the time came to see Meryl Streep in "Julie and Julia", I was not enthused. I had somehow never quite understood brilliant acting through conservative controlled representation. As a result, Ms. Streep had never quite made it to my heart- or at least, I didn't allow it. After all-I like spicy food, appreciate Guido aesthetics and despite the fact that I live in Boston and work in Cambridge, I have never bought into the upper classness of driving a Volvo on purpose and talking about "nouveau riche" as if it smelt really bad. I was therefore surprised then-that a movie about an American chef whose famous French cuisine was cooked in her Cambridge home, was one of the most moving movies I have ever seen. Meryl Streep was nothing short of outstanding, amazing and breathtaking...and I immediately saw my bias and naïveté in ever categorizing her performances. I relent to join the mass opinion in stating-that she was just brilliant. The lessons she showed would be very difficult for anybody else to depict as well as she did.
Lesson One: Eating and cooking are amazing ways to guarantee peace in this tumultuous life. "I love to eat" is effectively what Julia Child said when asked about her passions in life. What an amazing message for a contemporary movie! No anorexia. No bulimia. No "eat this, not that" (I actually really like that book!). No special diet. Just the amazing beauty and pleasure of eating. Not just eating, but cooking too. This chore of a modern working woman or man, was represented as the true balm that it is. Nobody could have captured the word "eat" as beautifully as Meryl did. And Amy Adams did a masterful job sharing her passion about cooking and eating too-despite the Giarda-like absence of any hint of being overweight.
Lesson Two: "Good, better, butter". There used to be an amazing advertisement that captured the essence of butter as a generic superlative-by replacing "best" in the series of "good" and "better". Beurre blanc -literally translated as "white butter" and meant to describe a rich hot butter sauce made with French precision involving vinegar and wine- was cherished as the supreme indulgence. There was such a moment of escapism as I snubbed the smart balance in my refrigerator and thought again about my old lover, butter, with whom I frequently have affairs. What a work of art it was to see Ms. Streep watch the butter melt in her pan as she swirled it around. No hint of clogged arteries, or fish oils or anti-trans fats anywhere in the movie. No smart balance at all-except for how Meryl Streep guiltlessly adored butter and balanced out her guilt.
Lesson Three: "Sexiness is in the love". Anyone who saw Meryl Streep watch the dripping water after the shower of a beloved man in "The Bridges of Madison County" must have thought that such longing was impossible to ever replicate. Yet, in the scene where Julia rubs the belly of her bald, hairy lover, Ms. Streep takes you to a depth of understanding of beauty that transcends all literal and contemporary representations of sexiness. She looks at her husband with such amazing longing, as if taking instruction from Proust on internalizing a long description of what longing really is. Then, she rubs his belly as if it is the hottest six-pack in the world, and descends into bed with him wrapped in his love as he is in hers. No superstud references-in fact, one even understands why her husband was asked if he was homosexual at the same time that one is taken aback by his sexual love for her.
These were three of the most moving scenes in the movie, and there were many, many more. I do, of course, have a decent understanding of how one can be too exhausted to cook, dangerously indulgent in butter, and extremely attracted to a six-pack or hot-bodied beauty. I wondered then, how it was that Ms. Streep and Ms. Adams got me to see something much more important in life: that to live life fully is a gift we can never replace, and that the more we delay it as we prepare for perfection, the closer we are to death with not a taste of richness ever reaching our palates and only skin, bones, smart balance and hot bodies -hot, dead bodies-to show for it.
It does help for us to believe in this formula when we learn that Julia Child died at the age of 91 (two days before her 92nd birthday) proving that it is up to us to extract from her formula for life, how she made these specific ingredients work.
Follow Srinivasan Pillay on Twitter: www.twitter.com/srinipillay