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Julie & Julia / *** (PG-13)

Posted Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 11:50 PM

(Photo)
Meryl Streep cooks up a splendid performance as America's famous chef Julia Child in the new movie "Julie & Julia" with a little help from Stanley Tucci as her loving husband Paul.
Columbia Pictures presents a film written and directed by Nora Ephron. Based on the book "Julie & Julia" by Julie Powell and the book "My Life in France" by Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme. Running time: 123 min. Rated PG-13 (for brief strong language and some sensuality).

Meryl Streep is the reigning Acting Oscar nomination champion with more than any other actor in the awards' history. With 15 nominations (two wins), ahead of Katherine Hepburn with 12, and many more roles ahead of her, she promises to widen the gap. She will do just that when the next set of Academy Award nominations are announced next January with her role as famous American chef Julia Child in "Julie & Julia".

Nora Ephron's "Julie & Julia" is taken from the book of the same name by author Julie Powell, who became famous by blogging about her experiences of cooking every recipe in Child's first cook book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" over the course of one year. But as Ephron points out in the credits, her film is "based on two true stories" and is also inspired by Child's autobiographical novel "My Life in France", which highlights her love affair with her devoted husband Paul Child. Ephron intercuts Child's struggle to be taken seriously as an American housewife attempting to spread well-conceived instruction on French cooking with Powell's own struggles to give her writing career and life a necessary jump start.

Ephron ("You've Got Mail", "Sleepless in Seatle") sticks with her strengths and tells both Powell's and Child's stories as sentimental romances with the kind and devoted husbands with which each of them share their lives. Stanley Tucci brings as much charm and character to Paul as Streep does to Julia. The two were paired together in much different roles in 2006's "The Devil Wears Prada", and it's a joy to see them together again, bringing such love to these characters.

Powell also has the benefit of a supporting husband in Eric, played by Chris Messina ("Vicky Christina Barcelona"). The movie really rides on these two parallel romances, although they are not its subject. It's great to see such positive portrayals of men in a story about women struggling for their place in the world. Usually the men in such a woman's life are used as one of the story devices that hold the women back from their desires. Here the men push the women along in their ambition and provide a positive force upon which these women can fuel their own fire.

Amy Adams ("Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian") is her usual charming self in the role of Powell, but she's never given the great character work required from Streep as Child. While Powell falls into some of the more typical molds of the female romantic lead, Child breaks the mold of romance clichés. She's too tall, too brash, too old, and yet she's still filled with a positive outlook and insatiable yearning for acceptance.

Despite the wonderful portrayals, there is a certain lack of dramatic conflict in the two women's stories. Ephron ties to inject some tension into Julie's and Eric's relationship late in the story. I don't know if their brief breakup is in Powell's book or not, but it seems thrown in and unsupported by Eric's rather understanding character. Julia's difficulty in getting publisher's interested in her book and the issues of credit that come up between her co-authors ring more true, but they don't grab the audience's interest as well as the romance elements between Julia and Paul.

Overall, however, "Julie & Julia" makes for an entertaining engagement. Although Streep has certainly performed in more profound films, her performance here ranks among one of her best. When an actress is arguably the best actor of hers and many a generation, that is reason enough to see a movie.

"Julie & Julia" is currently playing at Marshall Cinema.

Visit A Penny in the Well for movie trailer, merchandise, and the Meryl Streep character star rating scale.



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A Penny in the Well
ANDREW D. WELLS
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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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