- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

A word of advice: Do not, under any circumstances, go to see “Julie & Julia” on an empty stomach.

The film begins with the revelatory sole meuniere that changed Julia Child’s life — and hence, every American’s. It continues through silky chocolate cream pie, crispy and buttery sauteed bread and, of course, the classic boeuf bourguignon. Watching other people eat these big-screen-sized delicacies will be rather painful if your own stomach is growling.

Otherwise, you’ll find it quite pleasurable to watch this homage to pleasure, of both the culinary and conjugal variety.

Nora Ephron’s latest film, about two women who found themselves through French food, is based on two memoirs — Julie Powell’s “Julie & Julia” and Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” You might not think an effervescent Californian living with her sophisticated diplomat husband in 1940s Paris would have much in common with a disaffected municipal call-center munchkin in post-Sept. 11 New York, but Ms. Ephron has shrewdly created parallel narratives. Both women are directionless, searching for something to give their lives bite, and supported in their endeavors by some of the nicest men ever put on screen.

Meryl Streep, in yet another astonishing performance, exactly captures the voice and casual joie de vivre of the iconic Julia, who tries hat-making and bridge before realizing the thing she loves most — after her husband Paul (a surprisingly sexy Stanley Tucci) — is the French food to which he’s introduced her. A visit to Shakespeare and Company reveals no French cookbook in English exists, so Julia and her collaborators set out to write one.

Amy Adams, so cute she almost makes the story of a blogger seem cinematic, is Julie, who drowns her sorrows in food after a long day taking calls from survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks. She decides, with encouragement from husband Eric (Chris Messina), to make this comfort her calling — she will cook all 524 recipes from Julia’s first cookbook in 365 days and blog about it, finally finishing something and maybe turning herself into an author in the process.

Cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt makes Paris look rather scrumptious, but it’s the food that’s most eye-catching. The film brings back a bygone time — which Julie proves we can resurrect, as long as we’re willing to call in sick now and then — when life was something to be savored, not rushed through.

Food can be — should be — a sensual experience, and perhaps the best thing about “Julie & Julia” is its portrayal of marital bliss — that of the Childs in particular. The actors playing them are so good, you can tell their characters’ great feeling for each other in the very first scene, as she feeds him a bite of that buttery fish.

It’s hard for Julie’s story — as important as it was to her personally — to compete with Julia’s. Julia helped teach a country to cook and to live; Julie was just one of those taught. Ms. Ephron sometimes overreaches in the smaller story, as when a move to Queens is made overdramatic as Julie asks forlornly, “Should we have stayed in Brooklyn?” Still, her story helps make this fun film the rare one that shows women struggling not so much with love as with themselves.

★★★

TITLE: “Julie & Julia”

RATING: PG-13 (brief strong language and some sensuality)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Nora Ephron, based on the books “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell and “My Life in France” by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme.

RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

WEB SITE: julieandjulia.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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