Two women find themselves, half a century apart, in Nora Ephron's latest
Watching Julia Child's cooking segments and her beloved cooking shows The French Chef and Julia Child and Company on YouTube before seeing writer/director Nora Ephron's Julie and Julia is a surreal experience. Compared to the Food Network's pretty, young, and thin chefs, Child's 6-foot-2, sensibly dressed, handsome version of a television chef commands respect and attention. No "yummo" catch phases--her "bon appétit" doesn't count--and no cuteness. It's incredibly easy to imagine Meryl Streep in those wedge heels. The parts of Julie and Julia featuring Child is based on her memoir My Life in France, and Ephron uses another woman's memoir in tandem, Julie Powell's Julie and Julia, to keep the movie bouncing between their two stories, their connectedness and differences, during a pivotal time in their lives and careers. Neither woman fit the feminine mold; each found her way through the kitchen.
Julie and Julia opens in France, 1949. Julia's loving husband, Paul Child (Stanley Tucci), enjoys food and works for the government. She did, too, once, but now searches for a Parisian hobby to while away her days. After trying hat making, she follows her passion for eating to the famous cooking school Le Cordon Bleu, and in a school full of men, she quickly chops and sautés to the top of her class.
Streep's Julia has enthusiasm to spare: Her mouth delights in butter and fresh fish, her hands embrace every kitchen utensil, her mind absorbs the science and emotion of cooking. Childless, the Childs have a lively social life and love entertaining--it's a part of who Julia is that she wants to share good food. When her sister Dorothy (Jane Lynch) comes to visit, they explain that as loud and tall girls they never fit in, so they stopped trying. And that's the bold and confident Julia that fans came to know and love.
After meeting Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey), Julia signs on to help them write an instruction book on French cooking in English, which was eventually published as the 1961 masterpiece Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
Julie Powell (Amy Adams), is a 29-year-old woman as lost as the many others living or working in New York in 2002. She's in the middle of an existential crisis, and her government job as a Sept. 11 advocate at the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. doesn't ease her helplessness and inertia. It makes her painfully aware of how little the city is doing for these people who lost their jobs and loved ones, their health and homes.
She lives with her cute husband Eric (Chris Messina), who works at an architecture magazine and supports and encourages her, but a move from Brooklyn to Queens just about destroys her spirit. Most of her friends have lucrative jobs and live a lifestyle far removed from hers. She had started writing a book years ago, but never finished it. So Julie is hyper-aware that when a friend starts a successful blog, it was what she should be doing. So she begins to blog about cooking her way through the original Mastering the Art of French Cooking within one year: 524 recipes in 365 days.
Julie is a bitch--even her friend Sarah (Mary Lynn Rajskub) agrees. Seriously, as enthusiastic and loving and warm as Julia is, Julie is contained and humorless much of the time, at odds with her husband when there doesn't appear to be a reason. Cooking calms her down and comforts her, but at one point she throws a tantrum on the kitchen floor. A melted aspic the color of rusty water, the burnt beef, and the time it takes to practice soft boiling an egg contrasts with the wonderful meals she shares with friends, the chocolate cake her husband digs into with his fingers, the sense of purpose her life suddenly has.
Julie and Julia is funny and sweet and really doesn't miss a note. Streep's Julia is a hugely compelling character and her relationship with Paul is a story that could fill a whole movie, but that would be one without Adams' Julie--a woman without a solid marriage who discovers that she feels, frankly, like a bad wife. Julie and Julia are two chefs working on their careers and happiness half a century apart, yet they both find their true self in the heat of the kitchen.