Julie & Julia | Two Women and the Art of French Cooking

Meryl Streep plays loopy but determined Julia Child in Julie & Julia. (© 2009 Universal Pictures, Jonathan Wenk)

Based on Julie Powell’s book by the same title, Julie & Julia showcases two stories. One is a partial biography of Julia Child (Meryl Streep), one of the most influential cooks of our time, whose years in Paris with her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) inspired her passion for food. The other is about Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a New York City government worker by day and writer by night, whose clever daily blog features the wisdom of Julia Child and her 524 recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Julie & Julia alternates these two stories, filled with similarities and contrast, one based in 1940s France, the other in post-9/11 Manhattan. And entertains us with its playful dialogue, its loving relationships and their challenges, and the amusing, good-natured woman who injected the flavors of French cooking into American kitchens with fresh ingredients and plenty of butter. And in both stories, the main character is food. Main courses like bouef bourguignon, stuffed duck, and aspic. And desserts such as raspberry creme.

In case you’re wondering, the question of Paul and Julia Child working as American spies is raised once briefly over dinner, and then forgotten. And since the focus on Julia is her history as a cook, maybe it’s just as well.

The hurdles for me are the unavoidable comparisons that flatten the thrill. The film was directed by Nora Ephron, who also adapted the book to the screen. Ms. Ephron penned When Harry Met Sally, the definitive Hollywood comedy that I never get tired of watching. Julie & Julia does not warrant a second viewing. So there’s that. And casting-wise, I am weary of Streep in too many movies. And here, her teamwork with Tucci doesn’t come close to their powerful collaboration in The Devil Wears Prada. So there’s that, too. But even if this film does not live up to its predecessors, it’s a fun and lighthearted escape that serves up some keen observations, along with the Brie, the boiled lobsters, and the poached eggs. Bon appétit. B

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