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Billed as being based on two true stories; Julie & Julia is lucky that one of the ladies featured had already lived a larger than life existence long before Meryl Streep blew it up to Imax size.  The participation of the World’s Greatest Living Actor™ narrowly rescues Nora Ephron’s script from being more than just pure schmaltz.  I only wish both parts of this novel approach to the Hollywood biopic had been equally compelling.

Julie & Julia’s big draw is Streep portraying the woman so many have either viewed as the omnipresent fixture on public television, or watched our mothers watch as they considered a foray into French cooking.  Seeing Julia Child boil water was compelling by virtue of her ebullient personality, but who knew Child’s story before her success as the best-known television chef of all time was so interesting?  We arrive with Paul and Julia Child in Paris in the early days of the Cold War to accommodate Paul’s new government post.  In love with her new city, the queen-sized American forces a niche for herself via pure charm and exuberance, but being at one with both French fishmongers and ladies of society isn’t enough for Julia.  At Paul’s urging, Julia decides to try her hand at cordon bleu cooking, the business end of the cuisine she so truly enjoys.  Snubbed and underestimated by everyone at the cooking school, Julia rises to the challenge going far beyond her lessons to prove her skeptics wrong.  It is her alarm at there being not one cookbook in English or in American measurements that aligns Julia with the two French ladies who employ her to translate a book of their own for U.S. readers.  The Herculean task that resulted in the groundbreaking 734-page Mastering the Art of French Cooking stands as a paean to Julia’s devotion to French cuisine and first made her a household name amongst foodies of the early sixties.  Along the way, we’re treated to the delightfully supportive relationship between Paul and Julia, who are more passionate about each other than any other aspect of their lives.  We find out that both the Childs spent World War II as employees of the pre-CIA spy outfit, the OSS, and Paul continues his work with the U.S. State Department during the time of the Red Scare, which touches the Childs in their Paris paradise.  The shame about Julie and Julia is that more than anything one leaves with a great desire to see a proper biopic on Mme. Child.  What exactly did she do for the OSS during World War II?  The question is raised and never answered.  Streep plays Child with equal parts of the vivacious, oft-imitated chef and Auntie Mame’s determined joie de vivre.  Fitting the oversized fifties’ fashions meant to give the impression of Julia’s 6’2” size like a glove, it’s a role meant to be chewed like Julia’s famous Beef Bourguignon and Streep savors it.  Stanley Tucci is a perfect anchor for a performance that could have been blown far over the top, but his Paul is steady, suave and quietly intense.

Less tasty is Julia’s modern-day biopic counterpart; as pioneer blogger Julie Powell, Amy Adams is her usual adorable self, but isn’t called upon to do much more.  Even when Julie’s a grouchy, unlovable so-and-so, Adams is so cute in her Julia Child drag and pixie hairdo that it’s hard to hate her.  Powell’s story of being employed in a high-burnout, dead-end job in New York City finds her in the same unfulfilled state as Julia Child’s back in France, wanting more from life.  Latching on to Julia’s epic cookbook, the young woman with a history of never actually finishing anything she sets out to do, declares on her blog that she will complete every recipe in the massive tome.  Like Julia, Julie has the support of her spouse, but somehow can’t quite find the balance that Julia did in her own life and the attention her blog accrues as days go on only adds to mounting tension for the couple.  Unfortunately, the audience’s interest in this pair stems less from their charm and almost solely from Julie’s culinary adventures.  The screw-ups and yummy-looking victories (- Don’t see this on an empty stomach.) are endlessly more compelling than what happens to Julie and her man.  Consequently, aside from these modern-day kitchen nightmares and triumphs, we can’t wait to get back to the real show in Nineteen-fifties France and watch Streep doing her thing.

Schizophrenic as this exercise is, Julie & Julia is very fortunate to have Meryl Streep holding up both hers and everyone else’s soufflé to keep the whole proceedings passably entertaining.

 

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Aug. 7th, 2009

 

 

Click here to read our face-to-face with Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci including exclusive photos.

 

 

 

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Photos

(Courtesy of  Sony Pictures)

 

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