Julie & Julia
By Carl Kozlowski
August 7, 2009
It’s rare enough these days to see a movie in which one story is well-told, much less two stories. It’s even rarer when a filmmaker is able to balance two completely different plot lines and make both equally enjoyable and compelling. Yet with her new film Julie & Julia, writer-director Nora Ephron (Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail) pulls off such feats so impressively that the movie could possibly wind up with an Oscar nomination at the end of the year now that the Academy has expanded the awards to ten nominations and will likely include a couple of comedies each year.
Julie & Julia follows the amusingly parallel lives of chef Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep), who achieved worldwide fame while revolutionizing the art of cooking starting in the ‘50s, and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a young New York City woman searching for identity in 2002. Powell longs to be a successful writer like her friends and yet is trapped processing insurance claims from victims of the World Trade Center attacks.
Yet two things keep Powell happy: her loving and supportive husband, played by Chris Messina, and her passion for cooking. When she hears her friends talking about launching blogs, her husband convinces her to launch her own blog about cooking. Julie rises to the challenge by deciding to cook every recipe in Julia’s landmark tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking within a year–meaning she’ll have to cook 524 exquisite recipes in 365 days and live to blog about it daily.
As she embarks on this culinary quest, Julie learns more about Julia’s own personal life and her parallel loving marriage to her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci). Julie also gains confidence even as the strain of finishing her goal adds occasional strain to her marriage.
Julie & Julia deftly moves between the past and the present in a true screenwriting feat that draws one parallel after another between the two women separated by both an ocean and five decades of life experience. Ephron’s dialogue is crisp and fits both time periods to a T, while its depiction of two happy marriages in which no one’s secretly gay or committing adultery must set a Hollywood record for the modern era.
The film’s traditional moral values (not only is this a movie you could take Grandma to, she’ll likely wind up taking you) carry over into its traditional filmmaking qualities with sterling performances from the four lead actors (Streep could get a Supporting Actress nom, while this could lead to starmaking roles for the previously little-known Messina). The exquisite cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt makes dozens of dishes spring to vivid life on the screen, and is sure to leave viewers craving a hearty meal after they leave the theater.
Julie & Julia isn’t hip or edgy, but viewers of all ages will appreciate a solid and sterling main course of a film over the quickly forgotten appetizers offered by the much weaker fare to be found in this summer’s multiplexes.