(Photo: BBC Food)

In Nora Ephron’s film Julie and Julia, there are many treats for the senses: the beautifully presented meals, the baguettes and cheeses, the sights of Paris, the glimpses of the New York City skyline, lovely music, and the overarching presence of butter.

This is not a review (because that can be summed up in two words: must see).  This is a note about what happens when a director in her sixties writes and directs a movie, about a young woman questing after the life once led by an older woman.

The older woman emerges in three dimensions. And when that older woman is played by Meryl Streep, she gains a depth beyond the usual scope of that dimension on film.  What is most important for us to realize though is that time and again, it is Julia Child—too-tall, awkward, boisterous and unbridled, a virgin until age 40—who emerges as the sensualist.

T he younger woman is so trapped in her insecurities, her quest for notice, her need to revise her history of unfinished dreams that she cannot give in to her husband’s kisses, let the soufflé deflate as temperatures rise or even see past the failed dinner to the failing marriage. She can’t see nor feel much beyond her own skin and taste buds, while Julia Child sees and feels every single sight and taste around her.  (To be fair, not much more was expected of Julia than to live her passion, while Julie must labor in a cubicle that echoes with the grief of September 11, 2001.)

This movie feels true. In the end it is a movie about tenderness—not the tenderness of the boeuf, though that is there, but the tenderness of a marriage between a devoted husband and his delicious wife who simply loves to eat. We believe the younger couple might get there too, but what is so interesting is that the older couple started there and never lost it.  As David Denby observed in the New Yorker, “The miracle of the Childs’ marriage was that food was never the main course. It was more like a perpetual appetizer.”

This film is a triumph of the very real possibility that an older woman can be sexier than a young one. That mature love can steam the windows more often than one barely past the honeymoon. That being maturely in the moment is tastier than wondering when your time will come.

May all of you who haven’t partaken of this delicacy get there soon. Bon Appetit.

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  • Kate September 3, 2009 at 5:08 am

    Laura, I’ve read dozens of reviews and articles on “J & J,” and this piece is among the best of them.

    I echo let’s comment about the “being maturely in the moment” line.

  • Joseph Heagany August 29, 2009 at 10:49 pm

    Like the one electron in the “big bang” theory, everything in Nora Ephron’s movie comes from the blue Buick station wagon scene. Much like the opening motorcycle scene in “Lawrence of Arabia,” the type of machine in this movie that is the characterization of science (not personification) reveal the soul of “Julie and Julia.”

    The artistic, economic, and emotional resources Ms. Ephron invested in that scene leaped from the screen to every sympathetic man’s heart. If you aren’t sighing out loud by the time the car pulls up to the curb and the incomparable Ms. Streep emerges, nothing else in the film will capture your heart.

    As a man, you either celebrate the transformation of such technology into a station wagon or you hear the motorcycle’s high-rev whine and wish for more risks to take. The movie promised early only two experiences: It’s either intricate and daring domesticity and the marvels of a real marriage (Stanley Tucci is compelling), or it’s ho hum and a straining to hear what is going on with all the explosions in the movie you really wanted to see next door.

  • Amy Wohl August 27, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    You said just what I thought after watching the film. It was terrific, but it was Julia and Paul Childs’ romance that lit up the screen — and the cooking.

  • let August 27, 2009 at 3:33 am

    my new favourite quote: being maturely in the moment is tastier than wondering when your time will come.

    thank you for articulate and true post.

  • Kathy Bishop August 25, 2009 at 4:01 pm

    You so beautifully captured my feelings about this film. At the time I said it was one of the best since Gone with the Wind, which may be an exageration but not completly.
    I had heard that I would resent when we left the scenes with Meryl to go to Amy. I did of course love Julia, Paris, her joy with life and cooking and Meryl Streep. However, they were all made better because of the contrast with Julie, her dingy surroundings, her job and her insecurities.
    Maybe as woman we feel somewhere inbetween the two, I do. It did make me want to start cooking more. This is a movie I could see over and over.

    Thanks for putting into words what we all felt,

  • alice August 25, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    What a beautifully written post about this film! It’s on my list as a must this weekend, thanks to this!

  • Billie Brown August 23, 2009 at 6:00 pm

    As a young wife whose childhood as a military dependent had never included a fresh mushroom or asparagus, I hooked on eagerly to the first printing of Mastering the Art of FC, and cooked darn near every recipe in the book myself! I passed on a few of the side dishes, but laboriously and slavishly followed the MTAOFC instructions for Beef Wellington, Veal Orloff, Marchand de Vin . . . at least 80 percent of the recipes in the book. It changed my life, too. I later taught cooking, became a caterer and now sacrifice precious time and energy to get the full flavors of just about everything I take the trouble to prepare in my country kitchen. Thank you, Julia! Thank you, Julie! Thank you, Meryl & Co.! And thank you, Laura! I guess I will just have to go to Atlanta to see this movie, or wait for the DVD.