The story follows a frustrated secretary who decides to cook all 524 recipes in legendary chef Julia Child's book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". In, as the book title suggests, a small New York apartment kitchen.
Oh, yum! A delectable new entry in the generally gentle, genial and tantalising mini-genre of food movies — “Nothin’ says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven” — this scrumptious biographical comedy-drama also tells us that anyone can find herself and fulfilment with a little determination and joie de vivre. It is based on two sources: Julie Powell’s blog-to-book chronicle Julie & Julia: My Year Of Cooking Dangerously, and the richly appetising memoir, My Life In France, by the first and foremost celebrity chef on either side of the Atlantic, the inimitable Julia Child.
Around the same time that the Kennedys brought culture and couture to the White House, Child revolutionised American grub with her influential television series, becoming the Americans’ equivalent of Elizabeth David, Fanny Cradock and Delia Smith all rolled into one giant (6’ 2”), eccentric and beloved personality, an institution from the ’60s into the ’90s.
In 2002, Amy Adams’ Julie is a stressed civil servant in post-9/11 redevelopment admin, who finds a creative outlet cooking for her sweet, hotty hubby (Chris Messina) in their teeny kitchen in Queens. Determined for once to finish something she’s started, Julie sets herself the challenge of becoming a real cook by working her way through Child’s Mastering The Art Of French Cooking — over 500 recipes — in exactly one year. It’s to be a learning experience that impacts on her life beyond the kitchen. And encouraged by her husband to blog about her trials and triumphs, she finds a growing audience.
Adams is, as ever, comely and endearing, even while her half of the film is a decidedly Bridget Jones-y story of exaggerated anxieties. The more toothsome half of the film is inevitably the meatier period trip down memory lane in post-War Paree with Meryl Streep’s stupendous Julia and Stanley Tucci as her doting diplomat husband, Paul. Having met working in wartime intelligence they married and enjoyed sophisticated palates of the mature, life-embracing and well-travelled. Their shared pleasure in nosh — and her anxiousness to please in a social circle where her looks and hearty individualism did not impress — prompted Julia to enrol at the Cordon Bleu school, where a woman, and an American one at that, was an oddity barely tolerated. Her determination not only to succeed but to wow the Frenchies at their own game tests her mettle and proves her liberation. Streep is to die for, so funny, so touching, so brilliant — from her uncanny mimicry of Child’s fluting, whooping voice to the subtle but heart-piercing way she suggests Julia’s pain at being childless.
The most pleasant surprise is Nora Ephron’s direction, free of her cutesier signature touches and the running battles of the sexes. Not that there aren’t girlie bits. Julie has, of course, a gal-pal confidante (Lynn Rajskub) and a highlight of hilarity is the visit by Julia’s equally unusual sister, Dorothy (a priceless Jane Lynch). But men can stride into the stalls confident that tickled ribs and a winning love story are served up alongside the boeuf bourguignon.
Deliciously funny and warming fare, for which the amazing Meryl deserves her ridiculously overdue third Oscar.