A gour­mand’s de­light

As Ju­lia Child, Meryl Streep of­fers a mas­ter­class in comic act­ing, writes Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

EV­ERY NOW and then, a film comes along that ren­ders the star rat­ing at the top of a re­view vir­tu­ally worth­less. Nora Ephron’s pe­cu­liar breeze past the life and legacy of Ju­lia Child, Amer­ica’s most in­flu­en­tial celebrity chef, is as con­spic­u­ous an ex­am­ple of such a beast as you could fear to meet.

To launch straight into the in­evitable culi­nary sim­i­les, watch­ing the film is like sit­ting down to plate of beau­ti­fully sauteed Dover sole ac­com­pa­nied by a bucket of con­gealed Pot Noo­dle. You are al­ter­nately smack­ing your lips and run­ning to the lava­tory with a nap­kin over your mouth.

Let’s dis­patch the giblets down the waste dis­posal be­fore they be­gin to stink up the place. Julie & Ju­lia is in­spired by a blog (sub­se­quently a book I don’t want to read) that, on the ev­i­dence of this film, might serve as un­in­ten­tional satire on the solip­sism and poverty of am­bi­tion that ab­sorbs too much on­line cul­ture.

Af­ter en­dur­ing an aw­ful lunch with her stereo­typ­i­cally thrust­ing girl­friends – scream­ing down Black­ber­ries about share op­tions and so forth – Julie Pow­ell (a crim­i­nally un­der­used Amy Adams) em­barks upon a scheme that, all go­ing well, will heal her psy­che and raise her lan­guish­ing pro­file. The frus­trated of­fice worker, cur­rently liv­ing humbly in Queens, in­tends to cook ev­ery recipe in Mas­ter­ing the Art of French Cook­ing, Child’s de­fin­i­tive doorstop, and muse upon the ex­pe­ri­ence on­line.

Sad­dled with a thinly drawn hus­band fig­ure (Chris Messina), whose only job is to talk with his mouth full while nod­ding pa­tiently at the lat­est self-help inanity, Julie is then de­picted shov­ing her arm up too many ducks, chop­ping too many onions and fric­as­see­ing too many tur­bots. Her per­sonal prob­lems seem ut­terly in­con­se­quen­tial, and the culi­nary-de­rived so­lu­tions ba­nal and ob­scure.

Thank heav­ens for Meryl Streep. In what might have been a cin­e­matic foot­note to the fram­ing story, but which ends up over­pow­er­ing it en­tirely, the great lady turns up be­tween each con­tem­po­rary trauma to en­act a re­lated in­ci­dent from the life of Ju­lia Child.

What a life it was. An op­er­a­tive on the outer edges of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity dur­ing the war, Child later mar­ried a cul­tured diplo­mat and, while sta­tioned in Paris, learned to cook the lo­cal cui­sine like a mas­ter. Later, she wrote that book and, with her bizarre, swoop­ing voice and tow­er­ing frame, be­came an ad­mired TV per­son­al­ity.

Streep’s per­for­mance, though not ex­actly sub­tle, is one of the most en­ter­tain­ing she has given in her dis­tin­guished ca­reer. Some­one un­fa­mil­iar with Child’s tele­vi­sion broad­casts might find it a lit­tle over the top, but, if any­thing, Streep’s in­to­na­tions are less ec­cen­tric than the real thing. None­the­less, this end­lessly comic cre­ation of­fers a wel­come cel­e­bra­tion of all-Amer­i­can odd­ness and, in her in­ter­ac­tions with Stan­ley Tucci’s touch­ingly sup­port­ive Paul Child, presents a rare, en­gag­ing cin­e­matic por­trait of a happy mar­riage.

Th­ese seg­ments are like the colour snaps de­rived from the grim neg­a­tive that was Ju­lia Davis’s por­trayal of Fanny Crad­dock in the BBC’s su­perb Fear of Fanny. Whereas Crad­dock, an ex­act con­tem­po­rary of Child’s and a sim­i­larly un­avoid­able pres­ence on TV this side of the At­lantic, leaked sub­ur­ban con­tempt, the Amer­i­can em­bod­ied beefy pa­tri­cian bon­homie.

The most un­usual as­pect of Ephron’s film is the way the glo­ri­ous Ju­lia sec­tion con­sis­tently ap­pears to di­rectly un­der­mine the fee­ble Julie episodes. One woman main­tains a com­plex re­la­tion­ship with an in­ter­est­ing man, learns a

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Bon ap­petit: Stan­ley Tucci and Meryl Streep in Julie & Ju­lia

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