Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 2009. Columbia Pictures, Easy There Tiger Productions, Scott Rudin Productions. Screenplay by Nora Ephron, based on the books Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and My Life In France by Julia Child, Alex Prud’homme. Cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt. Produced by Nora Ephron, Laurence Mark, Amy Robinson, Eric Steel. Music by Alexandre Desplat. Production Design by Mark Ricker. Costume Design by Ann Roth. Film Editing by Richard Marks. Academy Awards 2009. Boston Film Critics Awards 2009. Golden Globe Awards 2009. New York Film Critics 2009. Phoenix Film Critics Awards 2009. Washington Film Critics Awards 2009.
In 1950s Paris, happily married Julia Child (Meryl Streep) accompanies her diplomat husband (Stanley Tucci) to his new posting in the City Of Lights, and finds herself desirous of something to do with her talent and boisterous personality. In 2002 New York City, office clerk Julie Powell (Amy Adams) is working at an insurance company processing post-9/11 claims, realizing quickly that her life is passing her by. These two women soon find themselves unleashing their ability to take the world by storm by heading into the home’s sanctum of creation, the place some call slavery and others salvation: the kitchen. Child enrolls in cooking classes and eventually meets the two women with whom she will collaborate on her decades-famous cook book Mastering The Art of French Cooking, a book that will lead to a career so legendary that her kitchen will end up in the Smithsonian. Powell, inspired by a friend’s insipid blog, decides to cook her way through Child’s entire book in 365 days, keeping a journal of her culinary achievements (not to mention the life experiences that come with them) on the internet. The joy of cooking is abundant everywhere, making this an impossible film to watch on an empty stomach (stock up on food and plenty of it), but thanks to having Nora Ephron penning the screenplay it also has many other memorable elements: Ephron gives as much attention to Child’s highly appealing marriage as she does her kitchen creations, and Streep’s magnificent performance captures everything that made this woman not only skilled but charismatic and winsome as well. It would be easy to make a shallow imitation of the legendary cooking show hostess by taking advantage of the forced-perspective height and strange falsetto voice, but Streep never lets it feel like a celebrity impersonation; her Julia Child is a flesh and blood character who experiences a roller-coaster ride of emotions as the cook-book project moves from a snazzy idea into years of re-editing. Powell’s story isn’t quite as captivating but that’s not from lack of Adams’ trying: she, too, gives us an insider’s glimpse into the motivations behind her strange but wholly delightful quest (I would really have enjoyed the film’s pointing out just how broke she went from cooking gourmet French meals every day for a year). Ephron’s film is a wonderful comedy chock full of memorable scenes, but it does suffer from an excess of detail like many of her films do: You’ve Got Mail, Bewitched and the abysmal Lucky Numbers are all films that would have been much better had they been written by her and directed by someone else. The plot starts to sag somewhere in the middle and threatens to lose its hold, though Streep’s delicious work really throws a life saver out to the audience and makes the meandering quite pleasant to sit through. Look for a marvelous turn by Jane Lynch as Child’s sister Dorothy (their scenes together are the best), plus a much-appreciated glimpse of Dan Aykroyd’s spoof of Child from Saturday Night Live (which the famous chef actually adored).