Very little other than lots of cooking happens in Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, a Frankenstein’s monster-like adaptation of two separate memoirs, but when it comes to Ephron, avoiding plot is probably a good thing. The onetime queen of the romantic comedy (she wrote When Harry Met Sally and wrote and directed Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail) has barely made any movies in the past decade, and the ones she has directed (Lucky Numbers, Bewitched) have generally been atrocious. But faced with a story that has no meet cute, no falling-in-love montages, no third-act betrayal and redemption, Ephron seems to relax and just get on with depicting nice people doing nice things. That’s not enough to sustain a film that runs over two hours, but it does at least make it pleasant to sit through much of the time.
The Julie of the title is Julie Powell (Adams), an aimless New Yorker approaching 30 who decides to add some structure to her life by starting a blog chronicling her effort to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking over the course of a year. The title’s Julia is, of course, Child herself (Streep), whose years living in Europe with her diplomat husband Paul (Tucci) form the film’s second narrative thread. Powell cooks and blogs; Child cooks and writes her book. That’s about all that happens, and any dramatic conflict arises from fairly mundane, easily resolved crises (Powell has a fight with her generally very understanding husband; Paul gets transferred, and Child has to work with her cookbook collaborators via mail).
Ephron does her best to draw parallels between the two women, but she doesn’t push too hard, and a potential meeting between the two (Powell was writing in 2002, not long before Child passed away) never materializes. Once we get the idea, the movie keeps going a little longer than it ought to, and the manufactured conflict is a bit silly. But Streep has a ball with Child’s famous mellifluous voice and characteristic bluntness, and Adams makes Powell a sympathetic everywoman. They don’t experience grand romance or devastating heartbreak, but they’re enjoyable people to spend a couple of hours with.