Well it looks as though Meryl Streep is finally poised to bring home that elusive third Oscar that she has come so close to getting in recent years (thanks to The Devil Wears Prada and Doubt). Oscar will arrive for a role and a performance worth the wait, one of Streep’s all-time best. She doesn’t look anything like Julia Child yet she makes you believe she is the physically formidable Child by the end of her first scene. Julie and Julia is a surprisingly effective and rather touching story of one woman’s life (Julie) transformed by that of another (Julia).
More than anything else, I experienced this film as an expression of our capacity to be inspired by something outside of ourselves. As Julia Child finds her road to self-actualization, Julie Powell (Amy Adams) charts her own course, inspired by Child’s life and work. It is a lovely thing to behold. The movie also happens to be a good film about good marriages, featuring not one but two husbands with egos healthy enough to allow them to do all they can to help their wives’ dreams come true. Not since the Tracy-Hepburn Pat and Mike (1952) has there been such a prominent film about a male assisting a female in her quest to be all that she can be professionally.
To say that Julie and Julia is the best film directed by Nora Ephron sounds like a back-handed compliment because most of her previous work is so cloying and pandering and strenuously adorable. Much of the credit goes to Streep. Yes, she is very funny in her Child-ish intonations and offbeat line readings, but this is also a Streep who has rarely been seen as a personality this charmingly expansive. Through Child, Streep embodies the power of enthusiasm in our world, the power of joy in our dealings with others. Her appetite—for her husband (Stanley Tucci), for food, for cooking and the writing of her cookbook—is infectiously irresistible. But so is the happy passion she feels for her friends, her equally tall sister, and her beloved Paris. Streep turns Child into a tower of positive energy, but, like anyone, she has her disappointments and bouts of depression. Still, gleeful determination comes naturally to her.
Many have said that the Amy Adams scenes bring the film down, yet there really wouldn’t be much of a movie without them. Instead of a rote biopic charting a life’s events, Julie and Julia finds its context as Julie focuses her life around the example set before her by Julia. Adams is delightful as always, and Streep hovers over these scenes like a fairy godmother who can be seen only by her Cinderella. The cutting back and forth between the two stories is sometimes clumsy, and it can make the film seem overlong, but mostly it plays smoothly, even buoyantly, and any imperfections are worth the end result.
To appreciate just how great Streep can be, pay attention to the dramatic scene in which Julia receives a letter from her now-married sister, the contents of which lead to a moment in which Streep exquisitely balances genuine happiness with profound sadness, making this the most moving moment in the film. And it’s all in the subtext. Streep doesn’t have to say a word for us to know exactly what Julia is feeling. Get ready for Oscar number three, Meryl, the icing on the cake. Or should I say gateau?