I never thought it would be possible for someone to make an absorbing movie in which the central dramatic question turned on whether a 30-year-old woman from Queens could master the art of boning a duck.

But then Nora Ephron made “Julie & Julia,” and another preconception bit the dust.

My wife and I went to see this movie last night, expecting another clever, pointed Nora Ephron romantic comedy (see “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle”). What we encountered, instead, was a disarming, often poignant story about imagination and creativity that at times even echoes the thinking of people like Pope Benedict.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Underneath all the butter and cream and red wine reduction, you find – incredibly, even movingly – a stirring look at what it means to take part in the act of creation. It is a thing of wonder and joy – not for nothing is the seminal work on gastronomy called “The Joy of Cooking” – and this movie captures it with zest and charm.

As most people now know, “Julie & Julia” tells two true stories: how Julia Child learned how to cook (in France, luckily), and how Julie Powell, 60 years later, tackled every one of Child’s recipes over a one-year period, beginning in the summer of 2002, blogged about it, and became a successful writer. The two stories run roughly parallel, jumping back and forth between Paris and in the 1940s and Long Island City in the early 2000s. Both begin with an arrival: the Childs settling into their (frankly, incredible) apartment in Paris, and the Powells moving into their (frankly, awful) walk up in Queens, located over a pizza parlor.

Along the way, Julia Child discovers that she has a knack for cooking, and Julie Powell discovers she has a knack for blogging. Left unspoken: both women were essentially pioneers exploring new frontiers – for Child, French cooking (for those without servants, as the movie notes) and for Powell, the world of blogging.

While the movie delights in its confectionary touches – the food, the post-World War II ambience, the touching interplay between the women and their spouses – there is also a substantive center. There are sometimes volatile squabbles between Julie and her husband – near the end, he even moves out of their tiny apartment – and the movie hints at political strife facing the Childs. At one point, Julia’s husband was even investigated, with a government interrogator asking him, bluntly, “Are you a homosexual?”

More tellingly, for the theme of the movie, there is the missing Child child. Julia never had a child of her own; she has a pained look on her face as she walks past a baby carriage and she is overwhelmingly grief-stricken when she learns of her sister’s pregnancy. There is a palpable sense of loss, of something missing. In a story about creation, and creating, this wizard in the kitchen was unable to create the one thing she wanted most deeply, a new life. (I have to wonder if her desire to raise a great soufflé was her way of compensating for being unable to raise a Child of her own…)

And creation, ultimately, is what this story is all about — the joy and excitement and satisfaction of creating something that is, in fact, art. “All the great works of art,” Pope Benedict has said, “are an epiphany of God.” I have to think that even includes art like boeuf bourguignon. Such an epiphany may even (it can be argued) include creating a blog to share your life with the world.

“’Tis God gives skill, but not without man’s hands,” wrote Georg Eliot. “He could not make Antonio Stradivari’s violins without Antonio.”

Indeed: Julia Child’s boef bourguignon would not have been made without Julia.

At its best, “Julie & Julia” is a reminder of how God continues His work, sometimes in the unlikeliest of places, using ordinary people – flaws and all — as His instruments.

A footnote: the movie concludes with a visit to Julia Child’s kitchen, now on display at a museum in Washington. Those inclined to make a similar pilgrimage can visit Julie Powell’s original blog, “The Julie/Julia Project”, still online (though silent for many years now). She also continues to maintain another blog — lately, describing the slings and arrows of being a celebrity author — called “What Could Happen?”

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