Released in 2009, three years before the death of its writer and director, Nora Ephron, Julie and Julia is probably the best film that the bright and nimble director ever made. Best known for her iconic romantic comedies, most notably Sleepless in Seattle and When Harry Met Sally, Ephron was gifted at both major behind-the-scenes creative skills. The film world will not be the same without her.
Ephron adapted Julie and Julia from two books, both non-fiction, in creating a film that looks at the most important years two very interesting women: the famous Julia Child and virtually unknown Julie Powell.
Julia Child is best known for her impressive cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book designed to open up the mysterious world of French culinary arts to the American housewife. The Child part of the screenplay is based on the book My Life in France, by Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme, in which Child documented her time learning French cooking while living there with her husband, Paul, a diplomat.
Julie Powell was an aspiring writer in New York when she gave up on her novel and decided to cook her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking and blog about it on a daily basis. Unknown at first, the blogs published on Salon.com eventually earned a very respectable readership and ultimately launched Powell’s career as a writer, in the form of her memoir, Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen.
That Ephron was able to translate these two memoirs, each taking place in a distinctly separate time and place, is something of a minor miracle, but she did it with her usual dexterity, good humor, and great understanding of romance.
Heading the cast are two outstanding actresses, the distinguished and honored Meryl Streep as Julia Child and a breakaway younger star, Amy Adams, as Julie Powell. Cutting back and forth between post-war France and post 9/11 New York City, the script deftly intertwines the two stories, juxtaposing Child’s struggle to get into a French cooking school with Powell’s struggle to find herself while working a civil service job helping the families of 9/11 victims.
Ultimately, of course, Child hooks up with her two co-authors and begins an association that lasts many years before the cookbook is finally published. At the same time, Powell begins her arduous task of preparing 524 recipes in 365 days. Both of the women go through tremendous trials in accomplishing their objectives, but the support of loved ones Paul Child (Stanley Tucci) and Eric Powell (Chris Messina) ultimately pull them through. There is much love in the food in the film and much love between the two couples.
Streep and Tucci are simply adorable as Paul and Julia Child. It would have been very easy to botch such a well-known personality as Julia, but Streep is way more than up to the task, giving us the essence of the woman in lovingly crafted performance. Tucci, always splendid, does not disappoint as her supporting husband. Adams is absolutely delightful as Powell, giving just the right amount of vulnerability and fortitude to make us cheer when she wins out.
In addition, both periods are scrupulously recreated on the screen, both in production design and costuming. Both Paris and New York have never looked better and it produces a visual feast that compares with the extraordinary cuisine.
The real star of the film is–of course–the food. Beautifully crafted by master chefs, each and every plate looks so scrumptious that it is hard not salivate while watching. Although the actors all gained weight, I admire their ability to look hungry after maybe 30 takes while eating Lobster Thermidor.
Finally, the film succeeds at the ultimate level–it deeply touches the viewer. Ephron was a master at making an audience both laugh and cry and she was clearly at the top of her game when she made this movie. It is guaranteed to delight and it is a film that can be watched over and over again with no loss of love.
Please, see it!!!