‘Julie and Julia’
Starring: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and some sensuality
Running time: 123 minutes
Bottom line: Hilarious, delicious summer comedy
A reviewer friend once asked me if it is acceptable to praise a movie for what it’s not. After seeing “Julie & Julia,” I’m finally ready to answer: “Yes!”
“Julie & Julia” does plenty of things to earn praise, but it first of all deserves credit for what it does not do: it never falls into the overblown melodrama that dooms most movies made for women. It’s merely a movie about two women who use cooking as a means of finding happiness and discovering who they are.
By now, it’s a story many of you probably know.
With her 30th birthday looming, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) laments the lack of passion and meaning in her life, a life that has followed an all too familiar trajectory. She once aspired to become a novelist but now finds herself a cubicle dweller. Meanwhile, her friends are journalists, Manhattan real estate brokers, and corporate vice presidents.
Julie needs change. Her husband (Chris Messina) convinces her to write a blog (remember 2002, when everyone was blogging?). Cooking is the only thing she truly enjoys, so she decides to make every recipe in Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in one year. Powell later turned this incredibly popular blog into a book that drew parallels between her experiences and Julia Child’s life.
As the title suggests, the movie alternates between Julie’s project and a biography of Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci). Specifically, we follow the era of Child’s life when she fell in love with French culture, learned to cook, wrote her famous book and became the Julia Child we all know and love.
And, it is really as simple as that. The movie doesn’t try to overreach. Writer/director Nora Ephron (“Sleepless in Seattle”) doesn’t concoct a forced infidelity subplot or any other such nonsense to heighten the drama. There are temporary melt-downs but no hysterical, weepy episodes.
By not trying too hard to satisfy us, Ephron has created one of the most satisfying movies of the year. She merely lets the story and actors do the work, and the result is the best film of her career.
Here comes the most redundant sentence I’ve ever written: Meryl Streep is outstanding in “Julie & Julia.” So convincing and spot-on is her performance that we quickly forget we’re watching an actress.
Here comes the second most redundant sentence I’ve ever written: Streep and Tucci work incredibly well together. “The Devil Wears Prada” first demonstrated the joyful chemistry these two actors share. Here, Streep and Tucci require exactly one minute to make us fall in love with Julia and Paul.
Adams, meanwhile, gives an understated, equally winning performance. Like Streep, she possesses an incredible ability to fully embody her characters.
Jane Lynch as Julia’s sister and Linda Emond as Simone Beck, Julia’s collaborator, each lend hilarious supporting roles as well.
“Julie and Julia,” appropriately, is also a great food film. All of the meals (aside from Julie’s occasional disasters, of course) look so good we yearn to share them with the characters. It doesn’t hurt that those meals are served in France, which Ephron and director of photography Stephen Goldblatt capture beautifully. Don’t be surprised if afterward you feel inspired to buy a good bottle of wine and some (fill in the blank with your favorite guilty pleasure food).
“Julie & Julia” doesn’t offer the explosions and pyrotechnics typical of its competition, but in other ways it’s exactly what a summer movie ought to be: a crowd-pleasing escape. It simply pleases a crowd too often neglected during summer.
It’s one of the few films I can recommend without a warning. If the story appeals to you even a little bit, you will be glad you bought a ticket.
Jeff Marker is a media studies professor at Gainesville State College.