I have been excited to see Julie & Julia since I first heard about it. How could any film be more delicious than one starring Amy Adams and better yet, Meryl Streep as Julia Child? As it turns out, precious few films this year can match Nora Ephron’s frothy, delectable confection, with the priceless ingredient being Streep.
Based on two distinct takes on Child’s life and contributions to modern culture, Julie & Julia tells the unconnected stories of Julia Child’s life-changing trip to Paris in the late forties and fifties and blog writer Julie Powell’s life-changing decision to cook through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year and to chronicle it. Critics have their knives out for Ephron and the Julie Powell section, and it goes without saying that I could have watched a full-length film of just Streep playing Child, but I thoroughly enjoyed Adam’s quest for self-empowerment through obsessive cookery as well. The film does a great job of tying each story together and allowing them to comment on each other. As the old critique goes, the only thing wrong with Julie & Julia is that it ended.
You might think that Streep would run out of fascinating, brave, ballsy and utterly lovable performances after so many years, but her Julia Child is among her best creations. She is artificially enlarged to play the Amazonian Child and she masters Child’s earthy falsetto flawlessly. What is amazing is how she imbues Child with such a lustiness. Her scenes with her husband Paul, beautifully played by Stanley Tucci, ring with such attractive truth that you never see in most youth-obsessed movies.
Adams’ Julie Powell, on the other hand, works for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation the year after 9/11 and lives in an apartment in Queens that she hates. Her friends are unbelievable shrews and the only thing that she enjoys is cooking. I was enthralled by how she found direction in Child, who truly made everyone feel like they could cook, and became the nation’s dotty aunt. I didn’t care a lot about Powell’s cinematic marital problems because they seemed so contrived, but Adams is incandescent in just about everything.
Special recognition should go to the entire production team, who not only succeed in recreating mid-Twentieth Century Paris and America but also make every single food preparation look so good you can almost taste and smell it! The supporting cast is amazing as well, especially Jane Lynch as Julia Child’s equally huge sister Dorothy. If there is anything Lynch can’t do, I have yet to see it. Chris Messina, as Eric Powell, is nice but bland, which seems to be happening a lot in movies these days. Are charismatic thirty-year-old men that hard to find? Don’t answer!
In a summer that has been full of noisy robots and killer tykes named Esther, Julie & Julia is a wonderful change of pace. While you might not feel like running out and heating up your kitchen, you’ll definitely find yourself as happy and satisfied as if you’d eaten one of Child’s magnificent meals.
UPDATE: Julie & Julia is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.