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Reel Review: Streep rules kitchen in ‘Julie & Julia’

There was definitely an unusual level of excitement at the preview screening of Nora Ephron’s latest film “Julie & Julia.”

Sure, the crowd was predominantly female, but that’s to be expected at an Ephron film (she did, after all, write “You’ve Got Mail” and “Sleepless in Seattle”). But this energy was more than just typical female bonding, which makes sense since this movie isn’t your average “chick flick.”

No, this is a movie about Julia Child, an icon and the home cook’s role model. And it’s told alongside the story of an everyday woman, Julie Powell, who dared to cook her way through Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and blog about her adventure to the world.

A middle-aged Child (Meryl Streep) has moved to Paris with her diplomat husband (Stanley Tucci) and, while searching for a hobby to occupy her time, enrolls at the all-male Cordon Bleu cooking school. There she discovers the passion and talent she’s been searching for all her life, and she begins her quest to share all that she’s learned with those “servantless American cooks” still thumbing through their ratty old “Joy of Cooking.”

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Interwoven with scenes from Child’s adventures in France is the story of Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a late-20s government worker in post-9/11 New York City who is feeling uninspired, depressed and marooned out in Queens with her husband, Eric (Chris Messina). The only thing that helps her unwind: cooking - and her role model, Julia Child. When she comes up with the idea to cook through Child’s cookbook in just 365 days, and blog about it along the way, she also finds her passion and her talent.

The film follows these women as they make their way through pivotal points in their lives - often stumbling - but still managing to discover the depth of their strengths and their relationships.

This all may sound somewhat cliche and, in fact, “Julie & Julia” does hit many well-worn sentimental notes along the way. But when compared to other Ephron-esque chick flicks playing a similar tune, this film far outshines them. This is mostly thanks to - you guessed it - yet another stellar performance by Streep, who nails Child’s off-key, sing-song voice while building a character who is strong yet gentle, and full of so much exuberance and joy for life that the audience couldn’t help but burst out with laughter (and some unwelcome chit chat) at almost every line she uttered.

Child’s story, including her tender relationship with her husband (and a beautifully played scene that delicately reveals Child’s unfulfilled desire for a child), is inspiring and worthy of its own film. So it was always a tad disappointing to have to leave her behind to return to Julie Powell’s New York.

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Unfortunately, Powell’s storyline and character is far less compelling, even though she accomplished an amazing feat - all while working a full-time job (something Child didn’t have to deal with). Adams is adorable as always, but there is a sort of whiny weakness to her character that simply withers when compared to Child’s infectious energy.

Despite Streep’s outstanding portrayal of Child, most of the supporting characters in the film remain paper-thin - sometimes even cartoonish. This is especially true of the husbands, who stand by always ready to offer support, love and a mouth to be fed. Yes, Powell has one obligatory blow-up fight with her husband, but its resolution and consequences for the characters were nil. Overall, the characters may endure a heck of a lot, but their arcs remain relatively flat.

Though “Julie & Julia” is a movie about women who find comfort, joy and meaning in the making of - and eating - wonderful food, it’s not really a film about food. So if you are expecting a glowing tribute to bubbling sauces and succulent meats like you’d find in true “foodie” films like “Eat Drink Man Woman” or “Like Water for Chocolate,” you will likely be disappointed.

The movie has the nostalgic and cheerful soundtrack and tone that you’d expect from an Ephron film (think “When Harry Met Sally,” also penned by Ephron), but technically it suffered. Particularly when the boom (microphone) clearly comes within the frame in two different scenes. There’s just no excuse for that in a big budget Hollywood film.

Though it may have the somewhat distracting aroma of a “chick flick,” and a lack of seasoning to give the characters adequate depth, “Julie & Julia” still manages to serve up a relatively enjoyable movie-going experience. Thanks to the woman who inspired it all, Julia Child.

‘Julie & Julia’

  • Rated: PG-13
  • Grade: B
  • Opens Aug. 7