You can’t have a movie about Julia Child without food—and not just any food, but the savory French cuisine that turned American palates away from tuna casseroles in the 1960s. Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia doesn’t disappoint in this regard: Here are rich, bubbling crocks of winey beef bourguignon, mountainous heaps of chopped onions, trussed ducks and, most magnificently, a browned sole meunire that practically swims off the screen on a buttery tide.
It also goes without saying that you can’t do a biopic about Child without showing her effect on a generation of empowered women. Here’s where Julie & Julia gets into hot water. For whenever Meryl Streep is not onscreen—hooting, chortling and pretty much owning the chef’s eccentric persona in one of her most exuberant turns—there’s this whole other movie that you want to skim off like fat. Julie Powell (Adams) was a real-life Queens blogger who, from 2002 to 2003, famously made her way through Child’s landmark Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Judging from the movie, Powell threw a lot of whiny tantrums and almost alienated her husband. Ephron falls into her worst habits of rom-com syrupiness in these scenes, and (even more discordantly) reveals a dated Sex and the City sensibility.
If only we could stay with Streep’s burbling creation. The movie shows Child traveling to France, collaborating and editing, suffering jealousy and heartache (she had no children), and loving deeply. Paul Cushing Child, the cook’s devoted foreign-office husband, was everything this impulsive epicurean needed; Streep and her colleague from The Devil Wears Prada, Stanley Tucci, make up a thrillingly rich and urbane union. They are perfect ingredients.—Joshua Rothkopf