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Film

10 Years Later, Julie & Julia is Still Nora Ephron’s Chef-D’oeuvre

Amy Adams as "Julie Powell" and Chris Messina as "Eric Powell" in Columbia Pictures' Julie & Julia.

I did it. 10 years later after its initial release and I finally watched Julie & Julia. Why I never watched it before is a mystery and a grotesque tragedy because this is my kind of movie, in all aspects of the notion. The food. The French culture. The writer who doesn’t feel like she can call herself a writer. The shy, bold girl who takes a chance. Stanley Tucci. It’s got it all.

Meryl Streep as "Julia Child" and Stanley Tucci as "Paul Child" in Columbia Pictures' Julie & Julia.
Chocolate cake and Stanley Tucci. Two of my favorite-favorites right there.

Based off the lives of Julie Powell and Julia Child, one in a Queens studio apartment, the other in good ole Paris, screenwriter and director, Nora Ephron, creates a harmoniously balanced film that gives us two great main characters. You have the bubbly Julia Child played by the one-woman-show Meryl Streep, and the shyer, more mousy character Julie Powell, played by perhaps one of the most underrated actresses in the business, Amy Adams. Both women are very different, but both love food. The way it makes sense of the world like nothing else can. Julie gives herself the challenge to blog about making each of Julia Child’s 524 recipes in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” in a single year as we, the audience, discover how the book and Julia’s own passion for cooking came to be.

Seeing Julie & Julia, I not only felt connected with the characters, I felt such a strong appreciation for Nora Ephron. I’ve adored her and her writing ever since I was little. But this film, I believe, may just be her pièce de résistance. And not because it was the last film this motion picture legend bequeathed us with before her death in 2012. But because it was a masterclass in how to write a romantic comedy well, by using a story that isn’t a classic rom-com in all senses of the word. In a less articulate sense, it was brilliant.

Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams at a press event for Julie & Julia (2009).
Ephron (left) with the leading ladies of the film. Can’t imagine being in the same room with these powerhouses. I’d probably forget who I was or go into anaphylactic shock.

Now I know what you’re thinking. Well, quite honestly I don’t. But here’s what I’m thinking: how can I claim that this film is one of Nora Ephron’s masterpieces, one of her “chief works” if we’re looking at the French root of the phrase chef-d’oeuvre? This is the woman who made us all believe that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s love was real even after only a few minutes of screentime together in Sleepless in Seattle, while also writing a love story for the movies.

The woman who penned When Harry Met Sally. Even if one of the most iconic lines in cinema was only partially her creation. It started with her, okay?

The woman who wrote what, in my opinion, is the best romantic comedy ever written. The most near flawless movie in the genre I’ve ever seen: You’ve Got Mail.

I’ve looked up to Nora Ephron for ages, dreamed about becoming like her one day. And I’ve only just seen this film that perfectly encapsulates what makes Nora Ephron films so good. I’ve got some studying to do.

Nora Ephron’s Writing, Cooked to Perfection

You have to hand it to Amy Adams and Meryl Streep, not to mention their male counterparts in the film, the acting is wonderful. Both light and dramatic when it needs to be. Again, a harmonious balance. Something that only the actors brought to picture, but also something initiated from Ephron’s influence. The little character nuances in her scripts are one thing that set her apart from other screenwriters, and in this case other romantic comedy directors.

Amy Adams as "Julie Powell" and Chris Messina as "Eric Powell" in Columbia Pictures' Julie & Julia.
Fun fact: Amy Adams is the one that recommended Chris Messina to play alongside her in last year’s Sharp Objects after working on this film together. Amazing what a little chocolate can do for a career.

One scene in particular showed this quite profoundly for me. When Julie has a fight with her husband, and writes that she’s not going to cook tonight. It’ll just be yogurt for dinner. But then we see her moment of decision, and indecision, which often defines her character in a way that she detests. Wanting to be better and follow through on something, she raises herself up out of bed, but then pauses for a moment, and abruptly lays back down. That is, until she raises herself up again a few moments later and gets to the grocery store for ingredients.

The script could have just called for a cliché close-up and cut to the store. But instead, Ephron gives us this brief, but beautiful moment that encapsulates who the character is and her journey in the film. In a single shot. Brilliant.

When I did feel the story lagging or started to feel like each of the characters had it all going for them, that their narratives lacked a lack (for lack of a better word…sorry, had to) or that innate need/desire all characters require to make a good story, that’s exactly when conflict would arise. And not just one, but several. One after another. Very much like life. Mine anyway, maybe you all live in idealistic utopias. Again, I don’t know what you’re thinking or who you are. I don’t know if you even care for Nora Ephron. I don’t know if you’ve been contending for one of her biggest fans too.

All I know is that she made this story a thing a beauty. Julie & Julia wasn’t two separate pieces, it was blended together as it was meant to be told, with each character getting the time they needed for the arc that makes them so lovable.

I’d love to hear your arguments about whether or not you think Julie & Julia is Nora Ephron’s lasting masterpiece. As for me, I think she checked all the boxes that made her previous works so great, and then some. She created two light, romantic biopics in a single film, while taking the time to add in precious subtleties that make her a cut above the rest.

Brilliant.


Want to read about another masterpiece?
Check out our piece on A Star is Born!