Julie and Julia
Though the Digital Generation (or whatever we’re called) is less familiar with Julia Child, for the Baby Boomers she was the dominant voice – and what a voice – in teaching gourmet cooking to the average American. Most are more familiar with Dan Akroyd’s lampooning of that voice in his classic “SNL” sketch. Back in 2002, however, a woman named Julie Powell used Julia Child’s life and cook book Mastering the Art of French Cooking to write a blog which eventually became a book and has now become the film JULIE & JULIA.
Nora Ephron took on the book (a change from her WHEN HARRY MET SALLY/ SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE rom-coms), adapting the screenplay and directing, and used it to show the parallel lives of Julia Child just learning to cook in France while traveling with her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci’s amazing at conveying subtle emotion and loving devotion throughout), and Julie Powell’s writing the blog with the support of her husband Eric, played by Chris Messina. The stories mesh effortlessly, transitioning easily from late 1940s France to 2002 Brooklyn, and in a way, though the story focuses on the two women, the importance of the men in their lives adds a romantic element that is right in Ephron’s wheelhouse.
Julie Powell is played during the first part of the film in that unique way that only Amy Adams can pull off, with likeability, intellect, and wit that instantly interest us in her blogging endeavor. However, later in the film her performance seems a bit too Meg Ryan-ish, and she loses that individuality that has already earned her three Oscar nominations. Hopefully that’s something that is held to this film due to Nora Ephron’s attachment to Ryan.
But the best performance is Meryl Streep as Julia Child, as we see her first learning cooking in France, then mastering it through sheer determination, and then putting together the book that would launch her to international stardom. Meryl Streep becomes Child in all aspects, and uses her height (she towered at 6’2”), voice and mannerisms to pull both laughs and genuine emotion from a character I honestly thought weren’t possible. Her scenes with Stanley Tucci as the supportive, loving husband are played with a loving realism that makes you believe one such loving, supportive relationship is possible, which even Julie Powell cannot emulate in the present. Hell, as far as simply conveying emotion, Streep even reads the mail as Julia in a way that makes receiving a letter an event, be they letters from prospective publishers or a note from her sister (Jane Lynch in a small role that she nails beautifully), the range she shows in even this simple task is incredible to watch. Streep is to acting what Julia Child was to food. Take notes. Write a book.
I think despite the movie’s summer release, we’re looking at another Oscar nomination for Meryl Streep, and it is her acting in this well-constructed film that takes its point total as high as it is.