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Julie & Julia

A review by Gary Chew     

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

First a caveat and an announcement before the first course of "Julie & Julia" is served.

Caveat: You must have a big meal just before you see this film. You'll be sorry if you don't, for you'll surely die of hunger before it's over. Oh, the food these people eat! Can a guy get a spike in his cholesterol just by looking at rich, great food being consumed by a lucky cast of film actors in a really delightful piece of entertainment?

Announcement: The voice of the mother humorously heard on the phone many times in the film talking from Texas to her daughter (played by Amy Adams) is none other than Tulsa's own Mary Kay Place. I guess Mary Kay's Tulsa accent was plenty good enough to pass for Texan. Mary Kay isn't seen in the film, but shows up as the last acting credit on the cast roster roll. I wish someone had taken my bet that it's her voice when she's first heard on the soundtrack.

There are only three things that "Julie & Julia" and "The Hours" have in common as motion pictures: they celebrate womanhood, they're two stories in different places at different times and both have Meryl Streep.

Writer-director, Nora Ephron combines two successful memoirs into the screenplay: "Julie & Julia," written by Julie Powell and "My Life in France," by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme. Ephron has cooked up a real gastronomical gas of a movie with this bright, sweet paean to the tall, marvelous lady with a funny voice who spent so much time in the PBS kitchen.

Speaking of public television, the film is something akin, as well, to the PBS-aired series, "Upstairs, Downstairs." Mrs. Child (Streep), is "upstairs" in Paris with her US diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci) and Mrs. Powell (Adams) "downstairs" in a second story apartment above a Bronx pizzeria. She lives with her husband, Eric (Chris Messina), whom she calls a saint.

The upper-middle class Mrs. Child has time on her hands in the "City of Light." As her favorite pastime is eating, she goes to cooking school. Meanwhile, in the future, Mrs. Powell has a lousy government job in New York City and needs to get her head out of taking calls from grieving relatives of 9/11 victims. Since it's years later (from the late Forties up to the early 2000s), Mrs. Powell opts to take 365 days to cook her way out of job stress preparing more than 500 recipes in Mrs. Child's, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." This makes Julie Powell the only food blogger in the Bronx.

Mr. and Mrs. Child's tenure in Paris includes Paul being grilled by U.S. congressmen investigating him during the Fifties, but Ephron keeps the joie de vivre in her film with other fish to poach than force feeding us unpalatable Cold War cooking from the McCarthy Era. Paul was a Bostonian before he became a poet and artist in La Ville-Lumière. Then, in government service, he adjusted his wife's West Coast Pasadena palette to the finer dining and its rituals found in Parisian restaurants and bistros.

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci

Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci

The two intertwined story lines exchange volleys over the course of the film with neither set of cast members coming face to face. The segues are smooth and the pace remains brisk, even though my internal movie-clock told me "Julie & Julia" might have worked better with 10 to 15 minutes sliced from the entrée.

Unceremoniously, Meryl Streep makes us forget that she's Meryl Streep and believe she's the real Julia Child as we remember her, even though, if one looks at a photo of the real Mrs. Child, she's a good deal taller than Streep and doesn't look like Meryl much at all. Another Oscar-worthy performance is given by probably the best female film actor on Earth.

Amy Adams is her usual stellar self with those sparkling, emotion-filled eyes. She uses those peepers as much as anything to act her parts. And there's a possibility Ms. Adams has the cutest speaking voice in cinema. It's a good contrast to the sing-songy contralto Streep give us as Julia Child. (I thought back to Streep with those amazing accents of hers in "Out of Africa," "Silkwood" and "Sophie's Choice."

The guys, although secondary, provide solid support as actors and screen husbands. Tucci always appears in films that have something special about them. That's the case in this one, too. Messina plays Mr. Powell steadily and commendably. It must have been tough for him to act the part of the poor guy who must eat all that food cranked out in the Powell kitchen each day for a year. Sometimes, when Messina is eating in a scene, it looks like he might not be acting at all.

Amy Adams and Chris Messina

Amy Adams and Chris Messina

Both marriages, as depicted in "Julie & Julia," are made in heaven, except for a brief blip for the younger couple. Songs help that along, too, one in particularly: Sammy Cahn's and Julie Styne's, "Time After Time," sung by Margaret Whiting. Doris Day's hit from 1950, "Bushel and a Peck" gives sharper time placement to the segments of Julia and Paul.

"Julie & Julia" is a high-caloric feast for those who love good food and good stories, as well as fine acting and directing but, especially, can appreciate a woman who looked like she never had a down day in her long, rich and gregarious life.

"Julie & Julia" official site.

Opens Friday, 8/7 at the AMC Southroads 20.

Check Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2009, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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