"My goodness, you have to taste this,” says Julia Child to her husband, Paul. They are in Paris at a marvelous restaurant, and soon Julia, played to shrill perfection by Meryl Streep, is taking lessons at the famed Cordon Bleu.
Younger viewers may not know going in that Child, who died at 92, turned out to be a legendary chef who brought elegant cuisine into America’s living room with casual, quirky finesse.
She remains TV’s first chef, and most important, the witty, eccentric lady who, from the 1950s on, taught a new generation that preparing great meals was not beyond their grasp. As her editor Judith Jones said in a recent interview: “She made people see that cooking was fun and sensual. She made sounds that were delicious. She lifted the hideous Puritanism that had, particularly in New England, made food uninteresting.”
The movie is “Julie & Julia,” based on the book by Julie Powell, a neophyte author who blogged her way through 524 of Child’s recipes in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”
‘Julie & Julia’
DIRECTED BY Norah Ephron
SCREENPLAY BY Norah Ephron
STARRING Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Vanessa Ferlito, Jane Lynch, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Chris Messina and Dave Annable
RUNNING TIME 124 minutes
Written and directed by Nora Ephron, who wrote “When Harry Met Sally,” the buoyant comedy features Amy Adams as Julie, Stanley Tucci as Paul, and Chris Messina as Julie’s husband, Eric.
Food is not the star
Culinary purists may demand more shots of exotic, tantalizing food and less of Adams. In fact, I can understand why some will wonder why the movie is not all Child. On the other hand, if you view the film as a Julia Child primer, it soars into a delightful experience. Whimsical? You bet. Shallow? No way.
Just when you begin to think she is turning into a standard fixture (See her stiff, imitative performance in “Doubt”), along comes Streep as a great actress embodying her character with a vivid sense of life. A lesser performer would try to bowl us over with mimicry. Streep reaches deep down into Child’s merry, hard-working soul, emerging with something fresh and original.
We like this lady, this clumsy New England dame who is both erudite and down-to-earth. We enjoy Adams’ performance too, even if it does not approach Streep’s level of artistry. As for the celebration of delectable cuisine that thrilled gourmands in movies such as “Big Night” and “Babette’s Feast,” “Julie & Julie” falls a bit short.
But to be fair, Ephron is not trying to out-cuisine the aforementioned features. She seems more interested in showcasing warm, loving marital relationships in which husbands support their wives in their creative endeavors. In both relationships (Julia and Paul, Julie and Eric), we are treated to model marriages in which even the tiniest of squabbles melts into an amorous reconciliation. Witness the now-famous Christmas card the Childs sent to friends and relatives: It’s of Julia and Paul sitting nude in the bathtub covered with bubbles.
Not a chick flick
I liked “Julie & Julia.” I loved Streep’s performance, and when Jane Lynch shows up as Julia’s sister, treat yourself to even more fun.
I have one cautionary note. Please do not regard the romantic, comedic biopic as a chick flick. This is a delight for everyone, macho men included.
Surely, after seeing the movie, more than a few readers will want to know more about Child and her recipes. For this added treat, you can purchase “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which she wrote with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. The movie draws heavily from “My Life in France,” which Child wrote with her nephew Alex Prud’homme.
Reach film critic Dan DiNicola at [email protected]