Julie is cutesy; Julia is grand. That just about sums up Nora Ephron's movie, Julie & Julia.
Ephron has taken Julie Powell's tale of deciding to make every single one of the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking and doing it in one year and Julia Child's memoir of her life in France with her husband, Paul, as she learned to cook, plus other elements of her life. The result is a movie, half of which is a memorable delight and half of which is not bad, depending on your tolerance for New York's creative yuppie set
As Julie (Amy Adams), cute and smart and wanting to be writer, works her way through the recipes, we get to meet her superficial and more successful Manhattan friends, her loving husband who eventually gets tired of the project and his wife's self obsession with it, and the gradual recognition of others, including some in the writing game, of what she's doing. She keeps a blog and seems as devoted to it as she is to Julia Child. Back and forth we go in flashback as we also see Julia Child (Meryl Streep) trying to find something to do in Paris where her husband has been assigned after the war, deciding to master great French cooking, and discovering that great cooking and eating well prepared food is what she enjoys the best. To the surprise of some, but not herself or her husband, she becomes a wonderful example of try, try again, hard work, indomitable perseverance and good humor...all voiced with her inimitable fluting exuberance. Within minutes we've forgotten Streep and are completely enchanted by one of our favorite people.
The drawback to the movie is that Julie Powell's quest seems increasingly self-centered and insignificant compared to Julia Child's quest. With Julie we get all the requisite clichés of New York's younger set, including stylishly improvised dinner parties, a 900 square foot apartment (above a pizza restaurant), romantic tussles on the sofa, the anguish of misunderstandings and disappointments.
Ah, but with Julia we are on a magnificent quest on a completely different level...to conquer doubt; to do things right even if it means dropping spoons on a floor; to make and keep friends; to take cooking seriously, but not oneself; and with Paul to have a happy, mutually supportive and very lusty partnership. It would take a shrewd and skilled actor to stand up to Streep's extraordinary ability to channel Julia Child's personality, manners and voice. Stanley Tucci, by underplaying, makes Paul Child into what he was in life, the rock upon which Julia Child depended.
Not much in the movie, to Nora Ephron's credit, is played for easy laughs. The movie may generate endless platefuls of warm smiles and nods, but that's because Ephron and Streep have managed the remarkable feat of giving us the Julia Child we learned to love and learn from through her television programs. Julia Child on the screen is the woman we saw and remember with such affection. If only Ephron, with Streep's signature on the contract, had just dumped the Julie part and given us all Julia.