Main Ingredients: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Nora Ephron
First separate Streep and Adams into two separate storylines. Use Ephron to stir both carefully and evenly, taking care to alternate between the two to prevent either mixture from becoming too sticky. Add a pinch of Tucci to the Streep mixture at regular intervals to ensure it retains dryness. Midway through, whisk Adams more vigorously until she reaches soft peaks. Season liberally with humour to ensure it doesn’t become over-sweet. Finally, combine both mixtures in a flashback-structure and bake for 123 minutes. Serve immediately to a warm audience.
Yep, it’s the cooking movie that everyone is talking about. You probably know the back-story already – Julie Powell, stuck in a dead-end administrative job in New York, decides to spend a year cooking every one of the 524 recipes in Julia Child’s legendary cookbook, Mastering the art of French Cooking. A frustrated writer, she documents the experience on a blog which becomes phenomenally popular. The real-life Powell went on to publish her story and it became an enormous bestseller.
Rather than a straightforward adaptation of this book, Nora Ephron’s clever screenplay combines the Powell story with Julia Child’s own account of her life in France during the 1940s and 50s, starting with her initial forays into cookery and following the difficult process of putting together her infamous cookbook, for many years the equivalent of a culinary bible.
The film cuts backwards and forwards between France fifty years ago and Powell in present day New York but this doesn’t unbalance the movie. Instead, the viewer is frequently struck by the similarities between these two women. Both are hugely likable, both embark on a seemingly crazy project and both are backed up by an adoring husband. It’s refreshing to see a story of triumph over adversity where so much attention is given to the supportive partners in the background. Look beyond the food and the women and this is significantly a film about two marriages which remain rock-solid under considerable pressure.
It skirts perilously close to cliché at several points, but Ephron skilfully keeps things smart and fast-paced. She’s a screenwriter whose reputation suffers from association with her softer rom-coms – You’ve Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle. But remember – this is the woman who also wrote Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally. Whether you like all her output or not, she’s clearly a sharp lady when she wants to be and she’s absolutely in her element here.
The cast is as good as you know they are going to be. Amy Adams has been undeniably cute and perky for the last couple of years, swiftly adopting the role of supporting actress du jour, but she really holds her own here. La Streep is clearly going to pull in the crowds, but her young co-star has slightly more screentime than the 15-time Oscar nominee, and to this reviewer, it is Adams who carries the real heart of the film.
Meryl is, of course, great value. Hilarious, slightly grotesque, unapologetically outspoken and ever so slightly drag-queen in her characterisation – this is a really big performance. But it doesn’t hinder the film – in fact, it probably lifts it to another level. Just like with Prada, this is a seemingly conventional mainstream movie that is elevated to something a bit special by Streep’s presence. The rest of the cast are also terrific. The husbands are both really appealing and warranting special mention is a delicious appearance by the ubiquitous Jane Lynch as Child’s sister. It’s the sort of role Joan Cusack used to play in her heyday – laugh-out-loud funny and just a bit crazy.
Production design is very strong, especially in the portions of the film set in France and the costume designers employ some very clever tricks to enhance Streep’s height, the real Julia Child having been famously very tall. We’re not quite in Hagrid territory, but her size is cleverly portrayed in several ‘how did they do that?’ scenes.
And it’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the food on display. Even if you’re someone who can’t boil an egg, it will have you itching to have a bash at some of the recipes or at the very least, it’ll make your mouth water – see this on an empty stomach and you’ll be ravenous by the end.
Overall, this is a tasty dish indeed. It’s fun, it’s funny, it’s hugely engaging throughout and there are some welcome moments of real poignancy. The term ‘feel-good’ is often used pejoratively to denote a film that lacks substance and isn’t dripping with cool cynicism. But this will make you grin, it really does make you feel good and as such, it will be a deserved crowd-pleaser.
Reviewed by: The All Knowing I