Everybody needs inspiration. Julie Powell wanted to be a writer, but not until she challenged herself to make every recipe in Julia Child's culinary bible Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year -- and blogged about it -- did she find her voice. Her memoir about that year, Julie & Julia, comes to the big screen thanks to writer/director Nora Ephron, a filmmaker who was in dire need of some inspiration.
The movie stars a pair of formidably talented actresses: Amy Adams and Meryl Streep. Adams plays Powell, an English lit grad who struggles through her stressful government job fielding phone calls from people who are having medical problems because of 9/11. Cooking provides her with her only form of anxiety relief aside from her devoted husband (Chris Messina), who suggests she combine her love of preparing food with her desire to write. He sets her up with a blog, and she begins her quest to perfect beef bourguignon, poached eggs, and aspic -- and to share her journey with the world. As she learns more and more about Julia Child (Streep), a former government employee herself, the beloved chef becomes Julie's personal hero.
Ephron shifts back and forth between Julie's story, and a biopic of Julia Child during the time she and her devoted husband (Stanley Tucci) lived in Paris. During that period, she learned to cook, met her future co-authors, and created the book that would save Julie four decades later.
It will come as a surprise to just about nobody that Meryl Streep is flawless as the distinctively voiced celebrity chef. Streep not only masters Child's unique cadence and idiosyncratic tonal shifts -- elements that made her easy to satirize -- but makes them seem utterly natural. She and Stanley Tucci make for just about the happiest couple imaginable -- supporting, loving, and generous. Their story isn't terribly dramatic -- in fact, the whole film has a noticeable lack of conflict -- but it's so much fun to watch them interact that the whole movie works because of their remarkable charm.
However, Streep and Tucci aren't the only cast members capable of winning an audience's affection. Adams communicates Julie's intense need to accomplish her task with such effortlessness that conventional drama feels like an intrusion -- a fact underscored by the movie's only dull stretch, a 15-minute subplot where Julie's marriage goes through a rough patch. This kind of unapologetic feel-good movie doesn't need a bogus threat to happiness like that -- it's more than enough for us to appreciate how much Julia fills Julie with meaning and purpose.
It's that very meaning and purpose that have been lacking from Nora Ephron's recent work. Bewitched and Lucky Numbers were joyless comedies that lacked her best qualities. But both Julie and Julia turn out to be fabulous muses for Ephron, who has fashioned a script full of gentle wit and affection, and directed it with warmth and confidence. This is a slight movie, to be sure, but it's a loving one made with care and purpose. It's not revolutionary like Julia Child's book, but it's as enjoyable as a soufflé.