Child’s play

Posted on 05 Aug 2009 at 1:50pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones Life+Style Editor

Nora, Meryl and Amy step up to the plate with delicious ‘Julie & Julia’


SPREAD YOUR LEGS: Julia Child (Meryl Streep) demonstrates the culinary equivalent of a chicken hawk in this mouthwatering biopic.

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JULIE & JULIA
Director: Nora Ephron
Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Jane Lynch, Chris Messina
Opens today in wide release
120 minutes. PG-13

The greatest sin most food-centric movies make is this: they don’t love their food enough. I say this not as a film critic, but as a restaurant critic. Foie gras, fine wine, flambé: they all can be as sensual as a lover’s touch. It’s no coincidence that romantic terminology often mirrors gastronomic lingo — we hunger for passion and for paté. I can think on a handful of films that capture the magic of eating ("Like Water for Chocolate," "Sideways," "Babette’s Feast,""Ratatouille").

t is no small accomplishment, then, that "Julie & Julia" can make you salivate like one of Pavlov’s dogs.

The life of Julia Child (Meryl Streep), the tall, horsey American gourmand who revolutionized French cooking in America in the 1960s, could be enough for a biopic in itself. But writer-director Nora Ephron has juxtaposed Julia’s early life of food with that of Julie Powell (Amy Adams), an early blogger (2002!) who cooked her way through Child’s classic tome of Gallic recipes. We get to see two women, in very different eras and circumstances, feed their desire to create, with food as their medium.

At least since Dan Aykroyd’s legendary "SNL" impersonation in the 1970s, Child has been as well-known as a caricature as for her cooking. Who is better, really, Streep or Aykroyd? The genius of Meryl’s performance is that she hams it up more than a pork farmer in Parma. Streep’s voice drips with clarified butter, full of that woozy, slightly drunk intonation that makes you believe there was always a gimlet just out of sight with Julia’s lipstick smudge on it. (As Julia’s sister, Jane Lynch demonstrates the same comic bravery and comfort level with going over-the-top; their few scenes together cascade with the thunderous cluck of two tipsy French hens. "These damn things are as hard as a stiff cock," Child unexpected declares.)

Ephron photographs the average-sized Streep from clever angles to make her appear as gangly and dominating as a newborn colt in a corral of kittens. But she doesn’t go just for parody; there’s real emotional heft to the story, too. Much of the plot centers around the internecine details of book-publishing and international diplomacy — hardly the stuff of summer fluff. (Child’s husband was once accused of being gay, which may explain her reported homophobia, which is not touched on in the film.) There’s a heart to this film that does not come in a giblet bag.

Fully half of the movie, though, is sustained by Adams as the insecure but determined Texan living in New York City. Adams is a sunny and natural actress, well-scrubbed and perky but never cloying or superficial. She always seems authentic in her films, whether playing a novice or a fairy princess, and her working-girl energy endears her to you instantly. You want to root for Julie, even in her weaker moments, because you root for Adams.

"Julie & Julia" works so well in part because it is the unlikeliest of mainstream summer fare: thoughtful, empowering, smart and subtly sexy, and without a single explosion. It’s a tonic for the usual mayhem. Tonic, huh? Throw in some Bombay Sapphire, and Julia would probably join ya.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 7, 2009.

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