When I was in high school, I had the rare opportunity to meet Julia Child at her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The encounter was brief, but you need only a moment to see what a remarkable woman she was. This was before her kitchen was transplanted to the Smithsonian, and her pots dangling from the kitchen wall were the inspiration for my own kitchen set-up when I lived in Brooklyn (we even did a video segment there). So obviously “Julie & Julia” was off to a swell start before it even began. At least for me.
For those of you who have missed the press blitz, the film tells two stories. The first centers on Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and her husband, Paul when they move to Paris. She is learning the language and looking for a way to occupy herself, which she eventually does by enrolling in Le Cordon Bleu. The second story centers on Julie Powell (played by Amy Adams), also married to a wonderful guy, but still searching for something to give meaning to her everyday life once she escapes her cubicle in a Lower Manhattan Office Building. We dance back and forth between the two women’s stories – different countries, different decades, the same search for wonderment which usually came in the form of butter.
Writer / director, Nora Ephron has fused the two tales beautifully. There is great joy and much yearning in the lives of these women, but Ephron has an acute sense of how to balance the two, from laughter to tears and back again. And through it all, a fantastic collection of dishes Powell is trying out as she updates her daily blog. The food is all from “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” (noticeably absent from my pantry!) and involves a lot of eggs, butter, and various birds. It all looks mouth-watering, thanks to the film’s culinary consultant, Susan Spungen (formerly of the Martha Stewart empire) and executive chef, Colin Flynn. For all the foodies out there, you will not be disappointed.
As for the film itself, it’s a bit longer than one might imagine (123 minutes) and perhaps feels so for the lack of music between the beats (though Alexandre Desplat’s score is very buoyant, what little of it there is). As for the performances, do I even have to say it? Adams is one we root for as she tries to climb out of the muck. Her husband (played by Chris Messina) is a charmer as well, and certainly an actor to watch for more from. Stanley Tucci plays Paul and is the doting husband every step of the way. And then, of course, there is Meryl Streep, who said in the press notes: “My out is that I’m not really ‘doing’ Julia Child, I’m Julie Powell’s idea of who she was.” As with her entire body of work, Streep dives in head-first and is able to conjure more emotion and nuance and joie de vivre in a single exchange than most actors can accomplish in a whole scene. If Nora Ephron and Julia Child can’t lure you to the cinema, then Streep most certainly will. This is a delectable film. You’ll want seconds.