I’ll spare you the food-centric puns that will no doubt populate countless reviews of this delightful and charming film and simply say: I thoroughly enjoyed it.
And it was not without some skepticism that I walked into the screening. How could director Nora Ephron – whose last big-screen outing was the universally panned Bewitched – turn a book about a blog into a movie? And how would she properly juggle the vastly different lives – lived 50 years apart – of renowned chef Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and modern-day writer Julie Powell (Amy Adams), on whose book/blog the entire film is based?
Turns out the answer is: deftly.
Rich in texture, colour and heart, Julie & Julia manages to illustrate the parallels between the two women and their respective personal and professional journeys, and does so with skilled pacing and some nice storytelling.
On one side is Child, who lives in post-war Paris with her loving, bureaucrat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci, wonderful as ever). Julia’s bored and wants to do something with the abundance of free time she has… so she enrols in Le Cordon Bleu, where she’s the lone woman in a class full of male chefs. As the world would eventually come to know, her irresistible joie de vivre and irreverence quickly help her soar past her classmates and a career is launched.
Meanwhile, back in present day, there sits Powell, an aspiring writer with an equally devoted husband (newcomer Chris Messina), a dead-end city job she hates and a burning desire to do something more. On a whim, she decides to tackle every single recipe in Child’s book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and to document her progress online. With unrelenting determination and amid numerous setbacks, Julie launches her mission.
Jumping back and forth in time, and always lingering just long enough with each woman, the film is pleasing to the palate pretty much from the get-go. It doesn’t hurt that both Streep and Adams are hugely likable talents, and their characters are wholly endearing. Neither strikes a false note – Child is always a sort of goofy, steadfast optimist who meets challenges with an “oh well, let’s give this a try!” attitude; Powell is consistently persistent amid failures, and her occasional moments of defeat and self-pity feel legitimate, not victim-y. Each has her obstacles to overcome, and each does so in her own unique way.
Equally impressive are the women’s two male co-stars. Tucci is, as always, just divine, and his Paul is so amazingly enamored with, and supportive of, his wife that you just want to leap onto the screen to hug him. Messina, who could have very easily faded into the background or been relegated to the thankless role of “the husband,” has terrific chemistry with Adams, and is presented as a three-dimensional character who loves his wife but struggles with her culinary quirks alongside his fears about their marriage.
Julie & Julia is one of those rare films that successfully presents the lives of interesting, intelligent, independent-minded women, and doesn’t sacrifice anything – storytelling, supporting characters, what have you – to do it. It provides fascinating insight into the life of one of America’s best-loved television chefs, and juxtaposes it with an equally compelling tale of a young woman looking to find meaning. It warms the heart as much as the stomach. Food, beautiful food, fills practically every frame of both women’s lives, so expect to crave a pound of butter slathered on everything you’ll ever eat by the time the closing credits roll.