Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina
Distributor: Sony Pictures
Runtime: 123 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
For her latest warm, feelgood movie, writer-director Norah Ephron (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle) has deftly intertwined two true stories, one set in the year 2002 in New York, the other back in France of the 1940s and ’50s.
The modern tale is that of Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a call-centre operator for a government department and a would-be writer who, entering her 30s, desperately wants something meaningful to do with her life. An enthusiast in the kitchen, she commits herself to devoting a whole year to cooking every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s 1961 “bible”, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and to writing a daily blog about the experience. Blogging was in its infancy at the time, and at first she wonders if there is anyone is reading it except her mother, but she persists.
In counterpoint to this curious pastime is the story of how Julia Child (Meryl Streep) came to write her famous tome. She went to live in Paris in 1948 when her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) was posted there in his job with the Foreign Service, and she fell in love with the place — and with the food. Needing something to occupy her time, and after proving a failure at millinery and bridge, she enrols in a course at Le Cordon Bleu (the first American woman to do so) and develops formidable culinary skills. When she realises that there is no book about French cooking in the English language, she doesn’t hesitate when Louise Bertholle and Simone Beck ask her to collaborate on the book they are writing.
But, not surprisingly for a film by Norah Ephron, Julie & Julia is a romantic comedy, so when it is not explicitly about the food it is about the marriages of the two women. They both have husbands who adore them (Julie’s is a journalist, Eric, played by Chris Messina). The common thread of the stories, apart from the fact that Julie idolises Julia from afar, is that both women found the solution to their problems in life through their dedication to food. Julie’s and Eric’s marriage goes through a rough patch, and Julia and Paul have to endure the ignominy of Paul’s recall to Washington for interrogation by Senator McCarthy’s infamous Unamerican Activities Committee. Julie is disheartened by the lack of response to her blog, and Julia endured knockbacks by several publishers before one had the vision to accept her manuscript.
Amy Adams, a fresh and vibrant young actress, is a delight as Julie, and Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina are warm and likeable as the husbands, but it is the incomparable Meryl Streep who towers over everyone (well, Julia Child was 6ft-plus). Streep was able to study how Child spoke and behaved from watching her television cookery shows, and she delivers a superbly crafted performance, from the hooty voice to the exuberant, hearty demeanour and the hint of clumsiness. She is a joy to watch — and so is the movie.
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