If anyone can over-act a character and get away with it, it’s Meryl Streep. Give the script of Mamma Mia! to most actresses, and you’d probably hear, “you must be kidding.” In the hands of Meryl Streep the film has grossed more than 600 million worldwide. This past week I’ve heard more people repeat the same comment than ever before -- “the woman can play anything.”
Those comments are coming from people who have already seen Julie & Julia, writer-director Nora Ephron’s double story about how Julia Child (Meryl Streep) became a world famous cook and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a young girl struggling with her life who decides to write a book while cooking her way through Julia Child’s cookbook. The movie is based on the 2005 book Julie & Julia by Julie Powell and My Life in France, the 2006 memoir by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.
The story of Julia begins with her life in France in the late 1940s where her devoted husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) has been assigned to work. One can only shop for so long in Paris, so Paul pushes Julia to pursue her love of cooking. The tall, giddy woman is a misfit in any kitchen, but Julia manages to defy the odds -- even landing a spot in the prestigious Cordon Bleu.
Transition fifty years forward and Julie Powell finds herself restless and unfulfilled as a writer. Her love of good food spawns the idea to spend a year writing a blog about cooking the 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie’s husband Eric (Chris Messina) isn’t sure that’s such a good idea but doesn’t dissuade his wife. And why would he when he can have dishes like boeuf bourguignon, mousse de foies de volaille or delightful desserts such as tarte au citron et aux amandes.
Julie & Julia constantly juxtapositions between the women’s two worlds and shows us they have more in common than food. They have passion. Julia has a joie de vivre that is present in almost every scene, and she also has a very successful and close-knit – almost storybook like -- marriage. Streep said she cried when she read the script and found the character of Julia and her zest for life and curiosity about many things quite appealing.
“The idea that what you put in front of your family, that love, those connections between people, are the real important things,” Streep said. “Her approach to her day was one of energy and appetite and a blanket determination not to let troubles get you down. It’s a great quality and she really had it.”
Streep has that quality as well in her resplendent portrayal of Child. Her mere awkwardness and delightful “Bon Appétit!” offer constant amusement in the film. Anyone who ever watched the wonderful Child on TV gets a sweet reminder of what a dear and one-of-a-kind woman she was.
Adams has definitely impressed moviegoers the last few years. Including her Academy Award nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in 2005 for Junebug and 2008 for the blindsided nun in Doubt, Adams has also given us delightful roles as a quirky singer in Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (2008) and a gutsy single mom in Sunshine Cleaning (2008).
In Julie & Julia her passion is not really to cook, but to make changes in her life, determine if her career and her marriage are working, and set an unrealistic goal for herself -- which certainly happens while trying to cook world-class dishes in her tiny New York apartment.
“She’s really come to a crossroads, and she’s trying to make decisions,” Adams said. “That was something I was very familiar with, and I don’t think it’s reflected very often in films in an honest way. For a more modern woman, there are some very all-encompassing questions, and I thought this character really embodied that journey and that confusion.”
Tucci (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl) is also a casting plus. He reminds me of Jack Lemmon’s everyman because he makes his character viable in almost every film, whether funny, serious or animated. As Paul, Tucci never fails to make us believe he’s a devoted husband who always had Julia’s back.
With good direction by Ephron -- who has been noticeably absent as writer, director or producer for four years -- spot on cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt (Closer) and Alexandre Desplat’s (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) great score, Julie & Julia has a lot going for it. The movie doesn’t knock your socks off but is a delightful treat and will certainly make you hungry. And, after all, it’s got Meryl Streep!
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated “PG-13” for brief strong language and some sensuality.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.