While in recent years Nora Ephron may not have broken any cinematic moulds, the ‘When Harry Met Sally’ writer has an uncanny ability to suss out an original feel-good story with a hook audiences can’t wait to bite onto. Her latest movie, which she has written, produced and directed, intertwines the parallel true stories of one of the original 1960s celebrity cooks, Julia Child, with that of a modern day successful blogger, cook and author Julie Powell.
Teaming ‘Doubt’ co-stars Adams and Streep as Julie and Julia respectively, the film captures the importance of cooking in both of their lives, weaving their various personal stories around their experiences in the kitchen. As ‘The Hours’ flitted between the life stories of characters from varying generations, this film uses the same technique.
Affectionately known as ‘The French Chef’ following her first TV series in 1963, Child’s life is fascinating, filled with travels, rich characters and even richer food, with the adorable and determined cook at its core. Aside from the torment of being childless, her marriage to her ambassador husband, Paul (Tucci), is a very happy one: "You're the butter to my bread, the breath to my life." She wrote numerous best-selling cookbooks, beginning with 1961's 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' and presented almost as many TV series in the decades that followed.
By comparison, Adams' boyish looking, New York- based Powell is more Joan Soap, with her very normal and naturalistic small apartment, big dreams existence. However, once she allows herself to follow her heart, cooking and blogging her way through Child's cookbook, colour is injected into her story, which soon becomes inspirational and successful in its own right.
Unlike Ephron’s ‘Bewitched’, ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and ‘You’ve Got Mail’, ‘Julie & Julia’ manages to retain their fun, life-loving attitude without the unnecessary clichés. The core of the film isn’t a sweeping sanctimonious statement, rather a focus on life’s simple yet essential ingredients, true love and friendship plus achieving dreams through dedication, persistence and hard work.
While the real-life Child was from California and spoke with an upbeat, high-pitched voice, Streep, under the direction of Ephron, pushes the boat out. Her performance is comical, yet the multi-Oscar winner refrains from switching over to caricature. At 6’2” Child was a good eight inches taller than Streep, so platform heels were introduced to address at least some of the balance, insuring she towered and tilted above Tucci, as Julia did her husband. The on-screen chemistry between the two actors is both compelling and engaging viewing.
The film zips along nicely right until the last 15 minutes where it hits a brick wall. Following the delicious build-up, a little artistic licence would have gone a long way to alleviate the disappointing bitter aftertaste. Still, there’s too much feel-good factor to miss; Streep is having so much fun in her new role as the delightful, fascinating Child and Adams' Julie is a great example of a modern day fairytale. So as Julia would say, Bon Appétit!