In theaters Friday: Avatar, Did You Hear About the Morgans?, Nine [limited], Young Victoria [limited]
New on DVD/Blu-ray: The Hangover, Inglourious Basterds, G-Force, Taking Woodstock
Writer-director Norah Ephron, who wed Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein the year All the President’s Men made him a household name, is renowned for her novels and romantic comedies like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle, but she also penned the true-life, Mike Nichols-directed Oscar-nominee Silkwood and guilty pleasure Steve Martin mafioso comedy My Blue Heaven, so there’s some versatility in her portfolio if you know where to look.
Add to that list Julie & Julia, out now on DVD, a film that the alternately melodramatic and spitfire trailer made it look like a spiritual sequel to You’ve Got Mail for foodies. It isn’t. Thankfully, it is far more interesting than that. In the same way the original Rocky goes above and beyond a boxing movie, Julie & Julia is more than a study in fine dining. It will have you craving lavish portions of Bruschetta, Boeuf Bourguignon and Raspberry Bavarian Cream, for sure, but the film is a study in success, and one that proves that having a female lead—or even two—doesn’t automatically earn the dreaded “chick flick” label.
Based on cubicle jockey-turned-author Julie Powell’s popular Julie/Julia Project blog and the hit 2005 book Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen, Ephron’s era-hopping, two-pronged film stars plucky Amy Adams as Powell in 2002 New York City and versatile Oscar-winner Meryl Streep as Julia Child in 1950s Paris. Both are women who want make something of their lives by breaking out of their too-stereotypical molds. Powell, cursed with financially successful friends, is stuck in a dead-end job answering phones for the city government, and Child is a freewheeling thinker rotting away as a traditional housewife to her embassy worker husband.
The film’s theme gels when both Julie and Julia recognize their own overt passion for cooking—and eating. Friends, bosses and motivational speakers tell us that finding what we are passionate about and figuring out a way to make a living doing that is the key to a fulfilling life. Powell and Child decide to test that theory the hard way, by doing things that had never been done before. After attending acclaimed Cordon Bleu culinary academy in Paris, Child partners with two French cooks to author Mastering the Art of French Cuisine, the first French cookbook published in English. Forty-one years later, in an attempt to publish a tantalizing blog and launch her stalled writing career, Powell decides to battle through all 524 of Child’s French recipes in a single year.
As Powell, Adams is magnetic not for being a natural cook, but for being a relatable one; a hobby cook who gets flustered, who pouts, who burns things, drops others, and doesn’t always succeed, but keeps trying because she’s so darn passionate about it. Streep captures Child’s spoof-worthy accent and elitist-undercutting laissez faire aura with ease. The whimsical tone of her Parisian scenes complement the hectic underdog murk of watching Powell and her husband go for greatness in their tiny kitchen above a greasy pizza joint in a grimy section of Queens. As Powell plows ahead week after week, her blog attracts a huge following, and she gains confidence courtesy of her new role model and icon: Julia Child.
Success affects Child and Powell in different ways, and much of the drama of film’s third act draws on these differences as each lead struggles to see their vision through to the very end. Without being sappy, preachy or tawdry, Julie & Julia is a success on every level—a humorous, thought-provoking and historical film to watch with the favorite food lover in your life. Just make sure dinner and dessert are ready and delicious before pressing play.