Starring Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci. Directed by Nora Ephron. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sensuality. 123 minutes.
REVIEW BY DANIEL M. KIMMEL
At long last, the summer’s “grown up” movie has arrived, and thanks to a trio of performances and writer/director Nora Ephron’s deft weaving of two stories, it is a sheer delight. This is yet another movie that will leave Meryl Streep’s legion of fans convinced she can do anything (except sing, as “Mamma Mia” proved).
JULIE & JULIA takes its inspiration from Julie Powell who, turning 30 in 2002, felt she had not yet lived up to her potential. Looking for something to do she set up a blog and a goal: over the next year she was going to cook the more than 500 recipes in Julia Child’s classic cookbook Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Intercut with this is Child’s own story of her Paris years while her husband Paul worked at the American embassy. This material comes from Child’s own memoir, My Life In France.
Though the stories are a half century apart, Ephron plays them off of each other, showing us how Julie is inspired by the life Julia led. Indeed, she comes to feel Julia is her “imaginary friend,” inspiring her to create fabulous dishes and bucking her up when things go wrong. We see how these women of two different generations dared to do something that seem out there to many, yet – cheered on by their husbands – managed to achieve greatness.
Of course the standout performance here is Streep, who brings Julia Child to life as a food-loving eccentric who also possessed a fierce intelligence and a desire to make her mark in the world. She takes the cooking seriously (as in a scene where she masters the skill of dicing onions) but doesn’t let her own ego get in the way. She now supplants Dan Aykroyd as the most famous Child impersonator (although Aykroyd’s hilarious “Saturday Night Live” sketch is shown here to good effect).
As Julie Powell, Adams has the less daunting task, since few in the audience will have an idea of what the real Powell sounds or looks like. Her job is to make us care for this young woman’s quixotic quest to cook and blog about all these recipes, even when they involve killing lobsters, boiling calves’ legs, or boning a duck. She conveys the enthusiasm of someone who honestly enjoys what she’s doing and isn’t just off on an ego trip.
As the men in their lives, Stanley Tucci may be his generation’s Claude Rains, the superb character actor who was Bette Davis’s favorite co-star. Tucci previously appeared with Streep as the put-upon art director in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Here his wry humor is the perfect counterpoint for Julia’s larger than life excitement over such things as mayonnaise and butter. Chris Messina has less to do as Julie’s husband Eric, but does well as the modern supportive husband who gets a bit overwhelmed by his wife’s enthusiasm.
“Julie & Julia” is a delicious late summer treat at the movies. A word of advice: eat well before hand or be prepared to be very hungry afterwards.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.