Simultaneously adapting Julia Child’s autobiography My Life In France and Julie Powell’s blog-turned-memoir Julie & Julia, Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia is two movies in one. That’s one more movie than it needs to be. One portrays Child’s self-discovery through cooking. The other focuses on Powell’s attempt to spend a year preparing all the recipes in Child’s co-authored 1961 breakthrough Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, a cookbook that made classic French dishes accessible to “the servantless American cook.” The first is a charming story of a woman finding a calling in a time and place when women weren’t generally thought to need callings. The second is an accidental dissection of Internet-enabled 21st-century narcissism rendered in broad strokes and easy punchlines.
Meryl Streep thoughtfully plays Child as a passionate woman with an easy laugh and an outsized personality to match her looming frame. Following her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) on assignment to Paris, Child struggles to find an outlet for the passion not directed toward her loving marriage. She soon follows her palate to Le Cordon Bleu, where she struggles to overcome the perception that she’s merely dabbling. Ephron tells Child’s story with a lot of love and little urgency, letting small developments in the long creation of Art Of French Cooking set the pace as Streep and Tucci create an enviable vision of domestic compatibility.
Her story alternates, Godfather Part II style, with a depiction of Powell’s blog project, begun as an attempt to find a creative outlet beyond her job at the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation in the days after 9/11. Discovering that her innate charm has limits, Amy Adams plays Powell as a monstrously self-absorbed woman who—even overlooking the ruins of the World Trade Center—sees her friends’ professional success as a cosmic slight against her. Once the blog becomes her focus, she taps away happily—accompanied by You’ve Got Mail-style voiceover—as the Internet starts to pay attention to her quirks. She isn’t the sort of woman who grew up wanting to be Julia Child. She’s the sort who grew up wanting to be a Nora Ephron heroine, and Ephron’s attempts to rhyme the two stories only makes one look shallow by comparison.