JULIE & JULIA (Nora Ephron, 2009)

I had never liked any of writer-director Nora Ephron’s films, so I’m quite surprised how enjoyable I found Julie & Julia, which she based on Julie Powell’s memoir, which in turn was based on Powell’s online account of spending a year, after work, cooking her way through idol Julia Child’s great book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Perhaps it is more than coincidence that this is also the first time that I have enjoyed any performance that Amy Adams has given. She is convincing as Powell, one of the breed of faux-celebrities that latch onto someone’s authentic celebrity like a leech in order to make a name for themselves. Adams sweetens Powell’s narcissism by softening its edges, but we can still see from what Adams does just what a train wreck Powell was, and probably still is, as a human being. Child herself was not fooled and adjudged Powell to be “disrespectful.”
     Ephron has done a good job of flipping back and forth between Powell’s half of the movie and Child’s, which centers on her time in Paris beginning in 1949 when she discovered French food, decided to become a chef, and wrote (along with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle) her first, famous book. Across time, the parallels between the two women’s lives, including (here, idealized) marriages, do not seem forced. Ephron has made an agile entertainment.
     And in Meryl Streep she has found a Julia Child as hilariously funny as Julia Child herself was on her television cooking shows. Although the character is conceived by Ephron superficially, as indeed are all the film’s characters (that’s real life for you), Streep here gives her most brilliantly accomplished performance since Adaptation (Spike Jonze, 2002). Moreover, when Julia learns that her sister is pregnant, what Julia herself can never be, and bursts into tears, insisting to her comforting spouse how happy she is, Streep is briefly piercing—all the more so because the moment interrupts the dominant note of joie de vivre that characterizes the role.

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