Anyone foregoing butter in their diet either due to weight or health issues should probably avoid Julie & Julia. That's the only constituency, however, who should consider missing this thoroughly wonderful movie.
Amy Adams gives yet another delectable performance as Julie Powell, a government drone working in post-9/11 New York City. She spends her days fielding phone calls from people affected by the recent terrorist attacks, either directly or indirectly. If her job wasn't stressful enough, Julie is on the verge of turning 30 and feels she hasn't yet accomplished anything of note in her life.
In her duel attempt to undertake a hobby that will help her decompress from work and see a project through to its conclusion, Julie decides to cook all 500+ recipes in Julia Childs' Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and do so by the end of one year. Her husband (the yummy Chris Messina) convinces her to blog about her experience as a form of accountability and, perhaps, inspiration.
Julie's story is juxtaposed with episodes from Childs' own life story. The late gourmand is something of a camp figure to many gay men, and perhaps anyone who doesn't have an interest in cooking but caught glimpses of Childs on her TV series. Big (she was over 6 feet tall), bold and enthusiastic, Childs' later-life image belied her significant past as an espionage secretary during World War II and as the wife of a globetrotting US diplomat (played in the film by Stanley Tucci).
Here, Meryl Streep impersonates Childs, and as usual does so marvelously. She injects much humanity into a role that could have become a caricature in lesser hands. Most striking are a couple of brief moments in which Streep makes palpable Childs' sorrow over not being able to have children.
Out lesbian actress Jane Lynch appears as Julia's sister, Dorothy. Not only does Lynch have great chemistry with Streep but she, in playing an unapologetic heterosexual, succeeds spectacularly in broadening her image beyond the bitchy-dyke parts in which she seems to be increasingly typecast.
Julie & Julia touches on much more than a single topic — in this case, cooking — as the best movies do. The script by Nora Ephron, adapted from both Childs' and the real-life Powell's memoirs, takes on such weighty topics as what makes a marriage work, McCarthy-era politics, interpersonal communications in the Internet age, and the sacrifices required in the pursuit of self-fulfillment.
Ephron also directs, and Julie & Julia is her best-made film to date. Fans of Ephron's past hits Sleepless in Seattle and You've Got Mail will find this a weightier but no less enjoyable achievement. One final word of warning, though: don't see it on an empty stomach, or else be prepared to go out for a gourmet dinner immediately afterward. The film's namesakes wouldn't have it any other way.
UPDATE: Julie & Julia is now available on DVD and Blu-rayfrom Amazon.com.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.