Two Foodies, Linked By One Singular Obsession

Amy Adams in 'Julie & Julia' i

Cracking Her Shell: Married, childless, unfulfilled and facing 30, Julie (Amy Adams) decides to jump-start her life with a singular quest: preparing 524 Julia Child recipes in 365 days. Jonathan Wenk/Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Jonathan Wenk/Columbia Pictures
Amy Adams in 'Julie & Julia'

Cracking Her Shell: Married, childless, unfulfilled and facing 30, Julie (Amy Adams) decides to jump-start her life with a singular quest: preparing 524 Julia Child recipes in 365 days.

Jonathan Wenk/Columbia Pictures

Julie & Julia

  • Director: Nora Ephron
  • Genre: Drama Comedy
  • Running Time: 123 minutes

PG-13: Brief strong language and some sensuality.

With: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina

A tale of two cities, two cooks and two eras, Julie & Julia makes the 1950s look a lot more appetizing than our own decade. Yet both milieus are essential to writer-director Nora Ephron's crosscut tale, which would have been less savory without either Julie (blogger Powell) or Julia (cookbook writer Child).

It's a matter of individual taste, but most viewers will probably prefer the "Julia" part: It follows Child from her 1949 arrival in Paris to the 1961 publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which she co-wrote with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck.

This story benefits from the presence of Meryl Streep, who only slightly overplays her impersonation of Child's familiar voice and mannerisms. (Child's famous stature — she was 6-foot-2 — is faked with camera angles.) Stanley Tucci is equally impressive in the less-documented role of Paul Child, State Department functionary and impeccably supportive husband.

Then, too, the Childs' chapter has a longer and more complicated arc. Julia goes from enthusiastic eater to Cordon Bleu-trained food guru, battling sexism and snobbery along the way. Awed by such standard French concoctions as a beurre blanc, she helps refashion her homeland's approach to cooking.

There's even some dramatic conflict, as Paul Child is investigated during the McCarthy era and the couple comes to accept that the U.S. government won't keep Paul stationed in Paris for the rest of his career. (Which poses a dilemma: Can you get a decent croissant in Oslo?)

The Powells' slice of the saga, which opens in 2002, is humbler: On the cusp of 30, frustrated by her support-staff job and lack of literary achievement, Julie (Amy Adams) decides to prepare all 524 recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days, blogging as she goes.

Julie is perky but sometimes frazzled, in the manner of the Meg Ryan characters in You've Got Mail and other Ephron rom-coms. Her only real problems are a small kitchen, limited culinary training and a husband who isn't quite so understanding as Paul Child. Also, she and Eric (Chris Messina) live in an industrial part of Queens, which ain't exactly Paris.

This strand of the movie indulges Ephron's characteristic misogyny; Julie's female friends are mostly back-stabbing careerist monsters, her mom is always calling with reproaches and Julie herself is a self-confessed "bitch."

Meryl Streep in 'Julie & Julia' i

The story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) offers a longer, more complicated arc than Julie's — though director Nora Ephron still manages to reduce her to one dimension. David Giesbrecht/Columbia Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption David Giesbrecht/Columbia Pictures
Meryl Streep in 'Julie & Julia'

The story of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) offers a longer, more complicated arc than Julie's — though director Nora Ephron still manages to reduce her to one dimension.

David Giesbrecht/Columbia Pictures

Really? Julie seems pretty amiable, even if she and Eric at 30 don't have as much sex as Julia and Paul in their 50s. But then Julie also has a full-time job, plus the pressures of the what-have-you-posted-for-me-lately Internet. Decades earlier, the Childs don't seem to have much to do except eat, drink, smoke and smooch in an implausibly sparkly postwar Paris.

As usual, Ephron is less than subtle. It's amusing when a lobster-boiling sequence begins with the bass line to Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer," but the director hammers the joke to oblivion by having Eric change the refrain to "lobster killer."

Although one of the film's stanzas is more complex than the other, its Powell and its Child are both ultimately one-dimensional, fixated on bringing a single project to public notice. Rather than delve deeply, the movie frames a counterpoint that keeps either character (or actress) from exhausting her charm.

This strategy may not be revelatory, but it is effective. For a food film that offers two complementary snacks rather than a full meal, Julie & Julia is reasonably satisfying.

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