If theater owners showing Julie & Julia are smart, they'll replace popcorn and soda with French bread, brie, and red winethe delectable goodies this food-obsessed comedy makes you crave. Director Nora Ephron, who famously incorporated recipes into the mordant story of her marriage to Carl Bernstein in her 1983 roman à clef, Heartburn, turns Julie Powell's best-selling memoirabout the year she made all 524 recipes in Julia Child's classic Mastering the Art of French Cookinginto a delightful film about parallel lives. With trademark transformational gusto, Meryl Streep (who also starred in Heartburn, the movie) becomes the quavery-voiced Child, who is idolized by the 2002 office drone Julie, played by Amy Adams. As the movie toggles back and forth from the 1940s to the present, Ephron makes the art of cooking seem like an effortless, exotic adventure (one sure to wow the take-out crowd). Julie & Julia indulges the vicarious pleasure we can take in watching food prepared and savored on-screen, and adds the retro charm of an era when buttery sauces weren't villains.
That said, the consumption of food on film usually means more than merely eating: It's foreplay when Albert Finney lustily attacks a drumstick in Tom Jones; a love potion when Juliette Binoche whips up candy in Chocolat; an extravagant gift in Babette's Feast. In Julie & Julia, haute cuisine becomes a lifeline that both women use to find their bliss.
Julia's cookbook, with its old-fashioned drawings, seems as quaint now as the cobblestone streets of Paris, where she arrived in 1948. And yet this tale is utterly up-to-date: Just as Julia discovers her calling as a chef, Julie taps her talent as a writer by blogging about her culinary exploits from her apartment.
Of course, foodie movies can be insufferably cute. But this story of two triumphant second acts is so witty, likable, and inspiring, you'll leave the theater searching for more than soufflé au chocolat, ready to follow your own passion wherever it leads.
The sure way to win an Oscar? Channel a real-life hero. Watch a surprisingly cuddly Sean Penn morph into a gay-rights activist in MILK, Jamie Foxx nail Ray Charles's mannerisms in RAY, and Reese Witherspoon, as June Carter Cash, administer the tough love to the Man in Black in WALK THE LINE. Then see mock biopic WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY, a slapstick send-up of the tired formula, with John C. Reilly.