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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Nora Ephron (script based upon book by Julie Powell)
MPAA RATING
Rated PG-13
RUNNING TIME
123 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Columbia
 "Julie & Julia" Review 
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How on earth does a movie studio market a full-length feature film about a government employee turned food blogger charging her way through a 500+ recipe cookbook and one of the most famous American chefs herself, Julia Child?

Casting Meryl Streep and Amy Adams is the perfect way to start.

Written and directed by Nora Ephron and based upon two best selling memoirs, Julie Powell's "Julie & Julia" and Julia Child's "My Life in France," "Julie & Julia" intertwines the story of two women, Julie and Julia, who are separated by time and space yet forever connected by their love of food, cooking, marriage and a desire to distinguish themselves in the world.

It is no secret, unless you are immensely dense or in massive denial, that Meryl Streep is one of America's greatest living actresses if not THE greatest American living actress.

Consider this, Streep has either been nominated or won an Oscar award in 1979, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2007 and 2009. Since Streep's cinematic debut in 1977's "Julia," she has never gone more than five years without an Oscar nomination

Streep doesn't just act, she immerses herself in each character she plays and has become universally known for her ability to personify human beings of great diversity while practicing a wide variety of dialects, accents and languages without ever losing a beat.

So, if there would be any actress in the world who has a hope of pulling off the uniquely entertaining and vocally challenging Julia Child, it would be Meryl Streep.

Mission accomplished. Oscar, anyone?

Streep is astounding in "Julie &  Julia," as the 59-year-old actress picks up when Child was 37-years-old and living with her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) in France with the soon-to-be chef as a student at the Le Cordon Bleu in 1949. Streep's transformation into the American woman who sought to make French cooking accessible to Americans is nothing short of transcendent, a visual and vocal acting masterpiece that feels so multi-layered and natural that it becomes easy to forget that this is one of Hollywood's most acclaimed actresses and not the chef herself. In many ways, Streep takes a woman who was, for many Americans, a sort of cooking caricature most recognized for her divinely entertaining television show, which is only introduced in the film, and her quirky, semi-comical voice.

Streep refuses, however, to allow Child to be a caricature and instead brings out a magnificent woman of tenderness and talent and drive and opinion. It's a magnificent performance from a magnificent actress.

Amy Adams, as well, is magnificent in a simpler, plainer way in a storyline involving Julie Powell, a blogger who set out in 2002 to cook all of Child's recipes, 524 of them, in her "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and turns it into a critically acclaimed and widely popular blog that garnered her mass attention while getting her on her desired path as a writer.

Does it lead to her ultimate goal of meeting the enchanting Julia Child, at this time 90-years-old?

Those of you who've read "Julie & Julia" will likely know the answer to this question, yet it's irrelevant as all of "Julie & Julia" is painted with vibrant, affirming and realistic portraits in both storylines that are seamlessly edited from one to the other throughout the film.

Adams, who first garnered attention and an Oscar nomination in "Junebug," is one of Hollywood's truly great up-and-coming actresses, an actress more devoted to her craft than her fame and who has chosen her film roles brilliantly, now having co-starred with Streep in the Oscar-nominated "Doubt" and this film. Adams embodies Powell with an almost heartbreaking beauty that surrounds a fragile vulnerability that makes you both want to fall in love with her and just give her a big ole' hug.

Both Julie & Julia were blessed with encouraging and loving spouses, and while they are clearly supporting players here they are nicely developed and brought to life by Ephron's script and outstanding performances.

Stanley Tucci, who performed alongside Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," has a comfortable chemistry with Streep and their scenes of tenderness together feel relaxed and comfortably intimate like a couple who have, indeed, been together for many years and who communicate through words and gestures and the simplest of touches.

As Eric Powell, Chris Messina ("Away We Go") sort of resembles actor Paul Schneider in the underrated "Lars and the Real Girl," yet has a wider range and infuses Eric with heart and humor and a vulnerability nearly equal to Julie's. Julie and Eric feel so right together that when that inevitable point arrives when the blog has consumed Julie at the expense of the marriage, one literally feels anxious at the thought of the marriage falling apart.

Alexandre Desplat's original score is vibrant yet balanced across the film's different decades, while Stephen Goldblatt's camera work travels nicely from decade to decade while portraying in light and color the individual ups and downs of each woman. Mark Ricker's production design is equally stellar and, as noted earlier, Richard Marks' editing is seamless as we travel between stories and the lives of these two women intertwine at various points.

There are storylines that are seemingly hinted at that are never really explored, such as Child's obvious trauma over never having had children, however, virtually every minor quibble in the film is squashed by the enchanting story, captivating acting and inviting storyline.

Easily one of the most wonderful surprises of Summer 2009, "Julie & Julia" features award-worthy performances from both Streep and Adams blending together to become the perfect recipe for a delicious and delightful feast of heart, humor and wondrous storytelling.

How on earth does a movie studio market a full-length feature film about a government employee turned food blogger charging her way through a 500+ recipe cookbook and one of the most famous American chefs herself, Julia Child?

They create a film as wonderful and entertaining as "Julie & Julia."

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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