Yet another role where Streep, playing real life American cooking icon Julia Child, is completely absorbed into the character. Whilst this could easily have slipped into caricature or parody, Streep manages to infuse the character with humour, passion and a Joie de vivre. Of course height is a problem, Child’s was tall, Streep is not and therefore all sorts of cinematic trickery was used, benches lowered, high platform shoes worn to give an illusion of height.
The story initially focuses on Julie Powell circa 2002, played by the absolutely cute as a button, Amy Adams, a down to earth young married girl living with her husband in a rather cramped mediocre apartment in Queens NY. Rattled by passing trucks at night and rattled emotionally by day, working with people affected by the 9/11 tragedy.
Deciding on a way to provide structure or meaning to her life, Powell decides to cook every one of the 524 recipes in Child’s iconic “How to Master the Art of French Cooking”. All this in 365 days, whilst blogging her project, much to the bemusement of her mostly patient husband, Chris Messina, in a thankless but solid role.
The film is split into two time periods that run concurrently through the movie. Powell’s increasing obsession with fulfilling her assigned task and her increasing affection for the imagined Julia Child, who she never meets in the film or real life and Child’s starting her own culinary journey in Post WWII Paris.
Child is played effortlessly in another Oscar nominated performance by Streep, complete with another spot on accent. Slightly eccentric, bursting with almost childish enthusiasm (no pun intended) and endless curiosity, she almost bumbles her way to creating a Cook Book loved by millions and now in it’s 49th print run.
Child revolutionised cooking in the US, arguably in a similar way to Fanny Craddock and latterly Delia Smith in the UK.
Stanley Tucci again effortlessly, plays Child’s husband, a middling Embassy bureaucrat posted to Paris just after World War II. Their comfortable life and love affair is portrayed expertly by both actors seemingly with little pretence of acting at all. The interiors and sets are beautifully dressed with exterior period shots expensively and very effectively filmed in Paris. Some scenes are almost chocolate box perfect but perhaps this is deliberate technique by director Nora Ephron, not shy of portraying cities beautifully, to counterbalance the modern day hum drum life experienced by Powell.
The scenes where Streep attempts to excel at onion chopping are a delight to watch, pity the poor set dresser who had to provide that particular pile of food.
Jane Lynch playing Child’s even taller sister, also makes an impact capturing something extra than what might have existed on the page. The two brief scenes by Streep sketching her sadness in being childless are expertly done, maybe only a few minutes long but indicating subtly that cooking was a poor substitute for what she hoped might be her life’s work.
Obviously Powell’s blog becomes successful, leading to TV and press attention and eventually a motion picture, which you are reading a review about right now.
There is little to dislike, the middle section where a publisher is sought and Child’s husband is dragged before the McCarthy hearings, slows the pace a little. There is little conflict or doubt as to the ending but this is a film and story that is intended to be just that, comfortable, funny and uplifting.
A film that will leave you with a smile on your face and wondering, what’s for dinner?
Highly recommended for the intended, dare it be said, “more mature” audience, a film to savour on every level, although best not watched on an empty stomach.