Julie & Julia is split in half to tell the true stories of the chef and author of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Julia Child, and aspiring writer Julie Powell, who wrote a popular blog about cooking all the recipes in that book over one year. But the problem is - only Child's half proves worthwhile. The portion of the film following Julia Child through her first French food experience and her life in Paris is colorful and energetic, given buoyancy by Meryl Streep's pitch-perfect performance and some beautiful backdrops. The half of the film detailing the period of Julie Powell's life in which she began chronicling her duck boning and sauce-stirring adventures is uninspiring and weighed down by a whiny, obnoxious characterization of the New York blogger that Amy Adams limps through lifelessly.
Meryl Streep does a very loveable, joyous turn as the eccentric chef that many remember most well from her 1970s and 1980s television series Julie Child & Company and Dinner At Julia's. With brilliant comic timing, she makes even her most over-the-top moments endearing. It's so good a performance that some of Streep's best lines are those muttered at the edge of scenes, suggesting when the cameras stopped rolling she just carried on in character. In all honesty, Child had the sort of personality that could have been a disaster when magnified on the big screen - shrill, grating - but Streep brings an undercurrent of genuine emotion to her wild gesticulations. Julia's marriage to Paul Child, played by Stanley Tucci, is convincing, with his adoring love for her helping along our own fondness.
Julie Powell's life with her husband Eric is far less convincing. Their conversation is awkwardly stilted, their chemistry non-existent and the trials and tribulations they supposedly suffered under Julie's strict cooking regime are absurdly pantomimic. Also, there's something very Devil Wears Prada-déj vu here. Ever since the success of that film so surprised Hollywood, they've been churning out shoddy mock-ups. The formula goes like this - an amazingly beautiful apartment in a crummy area in which resides a dissatisfied woman seeking purpose in life and a super supportive but bland man playing out child-like melodramas of love when the woman decides to pursue her dream, eventually showing the woman to be a bit of a bitch, and the man to be a bit of a wet blanket. Of course the déj vu here is increased ten fold by the presence of Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci.
Many interesting episodes are referenced in the telling of Julia Child's life that could have been extrapolated. It would have been additionally rewarding to find out more about the investigation of Julia and Paul by Joseph McCarthy and Julia's relationship with her similarly unconventional sister, which are some of the film's most hilarious scenes, than to sit through the amount of screen time provided to Julie Powell's navel gazing. There seems to have been more real-life interest to Julie's life too, it's just buried under all that Devil Wears Prada dialogue. But there is enough of the wonderful Meryl Streep to make for thoroughly enjoyable movie viewing. I can't wait to see what she does with Mrs. Fox in Wes Anderson's The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
In this British reviewer's country, celebrity chefs are revered and have shown to hold more power than any government official - Jamie Oliver was basically our surrogate Prime Minister for the years in which we shunned Bad Tony, and he revolutionized our relationship to food. As an excellent almost-biopic Julie & Julia is a fascinating introduction to the American equivalent.
Julie & Julia ★★★✩✩
Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Nora Ephron. Rated PG 13