Julie & Julia (PG-13) **½

 

Streep's cookin' in this half-baked combo.

Julie & Julia 2
In this film publicity image released by Columbia Pictures, Amy Adams portrays Julie Powell in a scene from, "Julie & Julia." (AP Photo/Columbia Pictures/Sony, Jonathan Wenk
 

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

In Julie & Julia, Meryl Streep continues to defy the unspoken Hollywood rule that dictates that actresses, once they've reached their middle years, should fade into the background quietly and gracefully, to resurface only in the occasional TV-movie or supporting role tailor-made to win an Oscar.

Streep turned 60 in June, but she's never been more prolific or more popular (this is her ninth movie in three years). In Julie & Julia, she plays master cook Julia Child from her late 30s through her 40s, and the thought that she's too old for the part never enters your head. There are times when she almost seems too young.

Neither does it ever seem that Streep, at 5-foot-6, is too short to play the iconic 6-foot-2 Child. Streep sells the illusion by concentrating on the things she can control, such as Child's unique sing-song voice with its unexpected veers in pitch and tone, or her unusual tics and mannerisms (watch the way Streep rocks her head from side to side, like a delirious broken doll, when Child gets good news and does a happy dance).

The late, great Pauline Kael, in her review of Sophie's Choice, famously wrote that Streep only acted ``from the neck up.'' But Streep proves Kael wrong here as much as she did in Mamma Mia! There's a thrill in watching an actor throw herself so vigorously into a role -- especially when she's playing a character as drunk on life as Child was when she discovered her calling while living in France in the 1950s with her husband Paul (Stanley Tucci).

Unfortunately, Streep's Julia is only half the movie. The rest of Julie & Julia, which was written and directed by Nora Ephron who has a thing for dual storylines (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally), centers on Julie Powell (Amy Adams), who began a blog in 2002 documenting her attempt to cook her way through the 524 recipes in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year.

Powell's blog became so popular that it earned her a book deal. But although Adams is a formidable actress, even capable of holding her own against Streep (as she did in last year's Doubt), there simply isn't enough to Powell to warrant the screen time the character gets. All of Julie & Julia suffers from a lack of dramatic conflict. But at least Child, as she forces her way into the prestigious Cordon Bleu cooking school and perseveres to get her first cookbook published, has some obstacles to overcome.

All Powell gets is an argument with her husband (Chris Messina) over her blog and some tussles with uncooperative aspics. The movie gets duller as it goes along, and Ephron cuts back on the foodie antics too soon. This is a story about two women who find joy and fulfillment -- not to forget careers -- in cooking.

The movie could have used a few more scenes focusing on Child at work in the kitchen -- a few more scenes with Child doing anything, really. In Julie & Julia, Streep makes you want to have whatever she's having. The rest of the movie makes you wonder what else is on, until you remember you're not really watching the Lifetime channel.

Cast: Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Stanley Tucci, Chris Messina, Linda Emond, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Jane Lynch.

Writer-director: Nora Ephron. Based on the books ``Julie & Julia'' by Julie Powell and ``My Life in France'' by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme.

Producers: Laurence Mark, Nora Ephron, Amy Robinson.

A Columbia Pictures release. Running time: 125 minutes. Brief vulgar language, mild adult themes. Playing at area theaters.

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