First, some advice: don’t go and see Nora Ephron’s delicious comedy Julie & Julia on an empty stomach. Inspired by the lives of two celebrated American foodies, her movie is one long feast of cooking and eating. Unless you’re a vegetarian, the gastronomic delights on display here, from boeuf bourguignon to Lobster Thermidor, will tickle your taste buds from start to finish. And when the film finishes you’ll need sharp elbows to survive the stampede to the nearest restaurant.
Ideally, that restaurant will be French. In its two parallel stories, Julie & Julia salutes the life-affirming effects of French cuisine on two very different women: the Julie and Julia of the title. The Julia is the woman who introduced Americans to the joys of French cooking in the 1960s with her books and TV appearances – Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep). The Julie is Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a frustrated office worker in post 9/11 New York searching for an outlet for her stifled ambitions. What she came up with was the idea of a blog chronicling her attempt to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s classic book Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a single year.
“Her trailblazing book”
The blog took off in a manner beyond her wildest dreams, attracting thousands of devoted readers and going on to become first a successful book and now a film from romcom queen Ephron, creator of When Harry Met Sally…, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail et al.
Ephron relates Julie Powell’s efforts in tandem with the story of Julia Child’s life in post-war France. Living in Paris in 1948 with her diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci), Child was another restless woman looking for an outlet for her energies. This she found by becoming the first American woman to train as a chef at the renowned Cordon Bleu school and then by co-writing her trailblazing book.
To be honest, it’s the Julia half of the movie that makes Julie & Julia worthwhile. Notwithstanding the charm and skill of Amy Adams, the scenes of Julie’s culinary mishaps in her tiny kitchen in Queens can’t compete with the sheer joie de vivre of Julia’s Parisian experiences. And these Streep conveys with infectious delight.
Now Meryl Streep’s acting isn’t always to my taste. In some films, I find her impossibly mannered and camp, but the role of the larger than life Julia Child fits her perfectly, even though Child was famously 6’2” tall and Streep is only 5’6” – a discrepancy the film overcomes with impressive sleight of hand and foot. Streep is mannered and camp here too, gleefully impersonating Child’s eccentric demeanour and hooting voice. Yet her performance brims over with such joy and mirth and love that it’s hard not to be won over. Yes, the movie goes on too long, and it’s a bit too sweet for my taste, but Julia and Meryl’s appetite for life is hugely seductive. As Child herself would say, “Bon appetit!”
On general release from 11th September.