Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams) are featured in writer-director Nora Ephron's adaptation of two bestselling memoirs: Julie & Julia by Powell and Child's My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. Based on two true stories, the film intertwines the lives of two women who, though separated by time and space, are both at loose ends – until they discover that with the right combination of passion, fearlessness and butter, anything is possible.
The combination of Meryl Streep and Amy Adams in the intersecting tales of the famous chef/author and the blogger who worshipped her could have been the recipe for a richly-appetising comedy. But Julie & Julia is a half-baked effort due to an under-cooked script by director Nora Ephron and the usually faultless Streep’s caricature of Julia Child, who almost singlehandedly introduced the US to the delights of French cuisine.
Perched on platform heels to emulate the 1.87m tall Child, Streep adopts an annoying, sing-song voice (which isn’t at all how Child spoke) and uses exaggerated hand movements and lots of whoops and throaty laughs. Her over-the-top performance sits oddly with that of Adams, who’s far more convincing as Julie Powell, the government office worker who set out in 2002 to cook all 524 recipes in Child's seminal 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in the space of 12 months, and wrote a blog about her experiences.
Ephron had plenty of source material, drawing on My Life in France, Child’s memoir written with Alex Prud’homme, her great-nephew (which was published in 2006, two years after she died, aged 91), and Powell’s book Julie & Julia. The film opens in 1948 when Child and her devoted husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) arrive in Paris, where he’d taken a job at the American embassy. Bored, she starts a cordon bleu course, despite being told she’d never amount to anything as a cook. The focus then switches to Julie, who’s about to turn 30, insecure, with a stressful job helping survivors of the 9/11 tragedy, and living in a dingy Queens apartment with her journo husband Eric (Chris Messina). A keen cook and frustrated writer, Julie hits on the idea of working her way through Child’s book and chronicling her day-to-day progress in a blog, The Julie/Julia Project.
Back in Paris, Child’s friendship with fellow epicureans Simone Beck (Linda Emond) and Louisette Bertholle (Helen Carey) leads her to join them in writing the cookbook—which was initially rejected by every publisher they approached.
Julie and Julia never meet, but they had a lot in common: writers, a passion for food, supportive husbands, and varying degrees of fame. The underlying problems, apart from Streep’s hammy acting, is that neither narrative is especially funny, and there are no dramatic pay-offs. One of the most amusing scenes is a Saturday Night Live skit showing a Child-impersonator bleeding over a chicken. There are a few, light laughs in watching Julie grappling with how to kill and cook live lobsters, and Julia eating her first egg.
Among the meagre dramatic moments, Child is seen lamenting the fact that she can’t bear children; her husband is grilled by investigators involved in the McCarthyism anti-Communist witch-hunt; and Julie’s preoccupation with her blog causes ructions with Eric, who accuses her of being selfish.
The uneven tone is probably unavoidable given the juxtaposition of two very different characters, one who achieved lasting, worldwide fame, the other a much more modest success.
The sight of all that gorgeous food is liable to leave you feeling extremely ravenous, while the film itself is a bit like a Chinese meal: OK at the time, but soon forgotten and not terribly satisfying.