Firstly, the introductions: Julia is Julia Child, that most beloved of chefs, who taught America to debone a duck on public television; Julie is Julie Powell, a disgruntled government worker who spent a year of her life cooking her way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
. In 2002, Powell chronicled her experiment on a blog, which then became a bestselling memoir, which became one-half of the source material for Ephron’s adaptation (Child’s memoir, My Life in France
, supplies the other half). Despite some surface similarities between Child and Powell – both worked in government, both drifted before discovering professional salvation in food, both were blessed with husbands with an above-and-beyond reserve of patience and boosterism – the two women couldn’t be more opposite in temperament, at least as portrayed in the film. Forget glass half-full or half-empty: The glass is very nearly brimming over for Julia (Streep), so sunny and spirited and utterly can-do is she. Meanwhile, Julie (Adams, flat and wan) is scraping bottom: Just shy of 30, she’s sunk by depression and disappointment, resentful of her job (as a caseworker for the reconstruction of Lower Manhattan), her higher-achieving friends, her recent move to Queens, and her half-finished novel. As an outlet, her husband Eric (Messina) urges her to start a blog, which becomes the Julie/Julia Project – 365 days, 524 recipes. As Julie works her way through aspics, boeuf bourguignon
, and lobster humidor (the last of which is tackled in a funny set-piece that concludes with Eric singing, with a tip of the hat to the Talking Heads, “lobster killer, qu'est-ce que c'est
?”), Ephron jogs the film back to the Fifties, exploring the origins of these recipes. In postwar Paris, Julia is the directionless wife of an American diplomat named Paul Child (Tucci); at Paul’s encouragement, she enrolls at the Cordon Bleu, a move that eventually leads to her authoring a cookbook that changed the game for the housewife-cooks of America. Streep wears Child’s notorious height and heft beautifully, and the light touch she and Tucci bring to the funny, sexy, sophisticated Mr. and Mrs. Child is irresistible. Ephron does her best work in the Julia passages; there’s an overhead shot at the wedding reception of Julia’s sister that’s as lovely and graceful as anything Ephron has ever done – and she’s done a lot, as a tremendous wit and one of the most successful female writer-directors ever. For better or worse, Ephron has done more to define romantic comedy in the 21st century than any other single artist. Julie & Julia
is a romantic comedy, too, but this time the romance is between two women, and one of them, truth be told, is a dud. Adams, usually so good at corralling her handle-with-care looks and little-girl voice, is a mousy, grouchy irritant here, but it’s not all her fault: Julie, as scripted, is a one-track, one-trick narcissist. I’d trade her entire half of the film just to hear again Streep sing-song “Dommage
!” in Child’s froggy voice. Shame, indeed.