Review – Julie & Julia
Title: Julie & Julia
Starring: Meryl Streep, Andy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Jane Lynch
Reviewed By: S.I.
Written and directed by Nora Ephron, Julie & Julia is based on not one, but two memoirs: blogger Julie Powell’s (Amy Adams) Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously (2005) and celebrity chef Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) posthumously published work, My Life in France (2006). Julie Powell’s book was based on her blog, which captured her year-long attempt to cook all524 recipes from Julia Child’s, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). Both Julie’s story, which takes place over the course of a single year in New York in 2002; and Julia’s story, set mostly in France throughout the 1950s, criss-cross throughout the film. Ephron’s direction beautifully balances both stories as we go back and forth between these women’s often humorous lives.
Julie & Julia’s strength lies in its script and the lightness of touch to Ephron’s direction. We float in and out of different eras – from post-war France to post-9/11 New York. Julie Powell, the younger and more pessimistic of the two, is a failed writer who answers phones for a 9/11 redevelopment agency. The only solace from her dreary job is her devoted husband and cooking Julia Child’s recipes in their tiny apartment. Julia child, a cheerful housewife, is stationed in Paris with her diplomat husband Paul Child (Stanley Tucci). While Julie Powell struggles with a dissatisfying job, Julia Child enrolls into Le Cordon Blue cooking school and dreams of publishing a French cookbook. In Julia’s time, fine cooking is the domain of chefs – male chefs – not American housewives. But, by the time Julie Powell sets out to try Julia Child’s French recipes, anybody with patience, the right book and ingredients can cook like a French chef. If the stories had become disjointed the film would have failed. However, with Ephron’s directing and Richard Marks’ editing, it didn’t.
The film also works because of its actors, particularly Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci who play Julia and Paul Child. This is the second time both actors have teamed up since The Devil Wears Prada, and they are in lockstep with one another. Their marriage is so loving and passionate, that were it not based on a true story, it would all seem made up since most movie marriages are rarely portrayed with such happiness. As Tucci himself has pointed out, most middle-aged couples are portrayed as either miserable or with one spouse dying. The chemistry between Streep and Tucci is undeniable, though their relationship does not follow some of the tropes from other romantic films. Neither of them is made up to be stereo-typically good-looking. Julia is imposing, clumsy, awkward, while Paul is aging and bald. But it is the older couple, this husband and wife, who flirt, kiss and make love. While in Julie Powell’s younger, modern-day marriage the couple barely even touch at all. It’s all rather sly – the older couple before the sexual revolution of the 1960s has all the fun. This is unequivocally Stanley Tucci’s best performance, and he is just as good as Meryl Streep. Paul, a career diplomat and doting husband, is a calm presence during even the most difficult times, and he is a hopeless romantic, although most of his wife’s endeavours leave him a little bewildered. Streep is made to stand at Child’s 6’2” frame and she is a force of nature.
She mimics Child’s distinct voice and mannerisms with vibrant humour. It’s not an easy task considering that Julia Child was, at one time, the most impersonated woman in America. There is one beautifully acted scene between Julia and Paul, in which it’s hinted that they are childless. When Julia discovers her sister (the hilarious Jane Lynch) is pregnant, she is happy and heartbroken all at once. Streep’s and Tucci’s performances are so honest; the film feels like an intrusion on a real marriage. Amy Adams and Chris Messina, who plays her husband, Eric Powell, also have chemistry onscreen, though it isn’t enough to outdo the older stars. Though Adams cannot compare to Streep, with whom she appeared in 208’s Doubt, she is nevertheless still delightful. She conveys Julie’s self-centerdness, hope and desperation with great charm.
Julie & Julia is not one of the paint-by-numbers biopics that have become so common throughout the last decade. The film is more a character study of two different, very complex women. We’re given a window into who they are, rather than where they’ve been or what they’ve done. The problem with most biopics is that the character’s life journey makes the very real person totally inaccessible. What Julie & Julia does, however, is give us a sense of hope. Hope that it doesn’t really matter if one is an optimist or a pessimist, a loving wife or a self-centred one, well-trained or untrained. What matters is that one follows one’s passion no matter how mundane it may seem. Julie & Julia is a feast for the eyes as well as the soul. There’s so much to look at, from Stephen Goldblatt’s airy cinematography, to Ann Roth’s cotton-candy costumes, to the sumptuous food. The film is proof that good food can bind us across time.