If, as screenwriter and director Nora Ephron has done, you take two foodie memoirs, fold one into the other and add judicious amounts of sugar, the result is bound to make a viewer hungry – but for what?
Sure, there are close-ups of boeuf bourgignon and chocolate almond cake, and a lot of unfashionable drooling over butter, both in post-war Paris where Julia Child (Meryl Streep) learns French cooking and in post-9/11 Queens where Julie Powell (Amy Adams) cooks and blogs her way through Child’s book; but the food isn’t the point. Julia and Julie are both happily married women in search of something meaningful to do. Food, for them, isn’t filling: it’s fulfilment.
The larger issues of food and cooking in a woman’s life are left on the side of the plate, but the bouncing back and forth between Julie’s poky American kitchen and Julia’s gracious Parisian one can’t help but inspire comparisons. Can a Magimix and Instant Messaging really compensate for the glamour of real pearls, an authentic French cookery school and letters you can open? Worse, this Julia is largely a figment of Julie’s imagination, so her life is tiresomely close to perfect. Unlike her acolyte, Julia has no marital quarrels, no money problems, no dispiriting day job. Her career has a selfless motive – the desire to teach Americans how to cook French food – while Julie’s is all about Julie.
The result is a film that’s charming, funny – especially when Streep is on screen, broadcasting her superb impression of the tall, charismatic, high-pitched Child – but leaves you with a dissatisfaction with modern life that no culinary masterpiece can relieve.
Read an interview with Ephron here