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Sleepless in the Kitchen

MOVIE REVIEW
Julie & Julia (2009)

PK-05
Jonathan Wenk/Columbia Pictures

“Julie & Julia” has Meryl Streep, solid production values and a vision of New York so lovingly rendered that a rinky-dink apartment over a pizzeria in Queens is transformed into a cozy paradise. It is, in other words, firmly lodged in classic Nora Ephron territory, unfolding with a relentlessly vivid color palette and a decided chick-lit sensibility with wonderful husbands ceaselessly supporting their hardworking wives.

Unfortunately, no matter how often Ms. Ephron evokes “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” and her other prior visions of chic, prettied-up urban existence, a fundamental flaw remains. For all its merits, “Julie & Julia” is felled by a near total lack of compelling drama. Neither of the intercut stories — one depicting the rise to prominence of famed chef Julia Child (Ms. Streep), the other chronicling the attempts of 21st-century New Yorker Julie (Amy Adams) to cook through the entirety of Julia’s epic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” — ever drums up more than perfunctory conflict before petering out in a haze of diminishing returns.

Julia follows her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci) across Europe, perfecting her craft and collaborating on her cookbook all the way. Ms. Ephron and production designer Marc Ricker imbue these mid-century scenes with precise detail, with the suave dining establishments, fluffed outfits and picturesque visions of early suburban existence seeming to have come straight from an issue of Life magazine. Yet Julia is preternaturally unfazed by her years of struggle to perfect the book, and what at first appears to be a perfect marriage with Paul is quickly confirmed as such. She’s superhuman, and her life never seems less than pretty great. Ultimately, then, there’s not much of a reason, beyond MS. Streep’s buoyancy and predictably perfect impersonation, to care about her half of the narrative.

Ms. Adams’s scenes suffer for the same reason. She’s one of the most consistently likable actresses working, having perfected a rare blend of sweetness and sexiness. Yet it may just be that she doesn’t have quite enough for a part like this, which demands a cold gravitas anathematic to her warm and personable demeanor. Julie should demonstrate a touch of the brutal selfishness inherent to any act of obsession, as she willingly alienates her husband (Chris Messina) and any pretense of a normal existence as she spirals down the “French Cooking” rabbit hole. Yet Ms. Adams, like the movie as a whole, is too nice; and her scenes unfold without much more than a fleeting hint of the underlying darkness. Blandness is fine for a cooking show, but narrative cinema needs something more than what “Julie & Julia” offers.

JULIE & JULIA

Opens on Aug. 7 in the United States and on Sept. 11 in Britain.

Written and directed by Nora Ephron; based on “My Life in France” by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme, and “Julie & Julia” by Julie Powell; director of photography, Stephen Goldblatt; edited by Richard Marks; music by Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Mark Ricker; produced by Ms. Ephron, Laurence Mark, Amy Robinson and Eric Steel; released by Columbia Pictures. Running time: 2 hours 3 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Meryl Streep (Julia Child), Amy Adams (Julie Powell), Stanley Tucci (Paul Child), Chris Messina (Eric Powell), Jane Lynch (Dorothy McWilliams), Linda Emond (Simone Beck), Erin Dilly (Judith Jones) and Frances Sternhagen (Irma Rombauer).

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