Hailing a tour-de-force performance by Meryl Streep is a bit like championing the sunrise. Yes, it’s amazing “ but it’s a phenomenon that just keeps happening over and over again.
In “Julie & Julia,” Streep (“Doubt”) again demonstrates why no praise is too hyperbolic to throw her way. As Julia Child, the iconoclastic chef whose 1961 book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” launched a culinary revolution, the actress deftly captures Child’s external peculiarities “ the jaunty movements, cocked head, warbled voice “ while also conveying the woman’s zest for life.
Writer/director Nora Ephron (“Bewitched”) relates two tales here. At its best, the movie chronicles Child’s post-World War II life in France, where she lived with her diplomat husband, Paul (Stanley Tucci, “Swing Vote”), and came into her own studying cooking at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu. “Julie & Julia” really soars during these sequences, propelled by Child’s fearlessness and indefatigable charm.
Alas, Child’s story is interwoven with the 2002 journey of Julie Powell (Amy Adams, “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian”), a wannabe writer in Queens, New York, who launched a blog in which she detailed making all 536 recipes from “Mastering” within a year.
It’s plucky and inoffensive nonsense, but it’s hobbled by a bland protagonist and the absence of dramatic conflict (will she debone a duck before the year is up?). In the end, Julie’s saga chiefly serves to cleanse the palate before Ephron returns us to the tastier adventures of Julia and Paul.