Even though I’d eaten a perfectly good dinner right before the screening of Julie & Julia (opening August 7), I went home after the movie and ate some more. Talk about a gut reaction.
The film—based on Julia Child’s book, My Life in France, and Julie Powell’s memoir, Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen—is a delectable treat starring the unstoppable Meryl Streep as the famous chef and the adorable Amy Adams as the contemporary woman who attempts to make every recipe in Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One in a year.
The narrative moves back and forth between Child’s experiences as she learns to cook at Paris’s Le Cordon Bleu and Powell’s progress in her self-imposed project. Parallels are drawn between the women as it becomes clear they’re both trying to forge an identity for themselves, to do something meaningful in the world and perhaps even change it with their cooking. It’s no spoiler to say both succeeded in becoming published authors with a movie based on their books but the fun comes from watching how they got there.
When Streep first appears on screen, looking like a giant (Child was 6’2″; apple boxes must have been used because Streep’s feet are rarely seen) and speaking in that voice, there was a round of hearty laughter in the audience. You will laugh, too; there’s no point resisting. But as the movie unfolds and Streep’s magic takes over, you’ll get used to the voice because the actress has fully embodied the chef and that’s just how Child talked.
In lesser hands, the performance could’ve easily devolved into caricature but Streep somehow makes every big gesture believable and endearingly quirky. Her gift of complete transformation into every role is remarkable and she will undoubtedly receive Best Actress nominations from all the major outfits come award season.
Adams does her usual sparkly work as Powell, making her an accessible Everywoman who’s a little sweeter than the author comes across in her book, where her language is saltier. Meanwhile, I don’t get the appeal of Chris Messina, who is as bland playing Powell’s husband, Eric, as he was in Made of Honor and Vicky Christina Barcelona.
As Child’s husband, Paul, Stanley Tucci fares better, generating sweet, sensual chemistry with Streep. This is especially noteworthy considering the last time they appeared together onscreen, he played a gay underling cowering from Streep’s nightmare boss in The Devil Wears Prada. Jane Lynch is so winning as Child’s sister, Dorothy, I wish she had more screen time. And Mary Kay Place pulls off several moments of hilarity as Powell’s mom though she’s only heard on the phone and never seen.
Director/screenwriter Nora Ephron did an impressive job keeping the pace zippy, the dialogue tart, seasoning each scene perfectly and never letting it overcook. Alexandre Desplat (The Queen, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) turns in another memorable score, and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt (Charlie Wilson’s War, Angels in America) made me want to book a trip to Paris immediately with the way he captured the City of Light, as golden as the perfect dishes Julie & Julia pull out of their ovens.
Nerd verdict: Julie & Julia is a delicious feast