For many years the tallest actress in Hollywood by talent, Meryl Streep now literally gains 6 inches or so. She looms over everybody in “Julie &Julia,” in which she plays the 6-foot-2-inch chef Julia Child.
Streep is also the “biggest” attraction in the movie, but the film’s labored concept keeps her off screen for half its running time. That’s unforgivable, given how splendid she is.
“Julie &Julia” takes place in two time periods, both based in fact. In 2002, Julie Powell began blogging about her attempt to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s landmark cookbook, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” in one year.
So the movie divides itself between Powell, played by Amy Adams, who becomes a blogosphere star as she lives a normal existence with her husband, Chris Messina, in a small New York apartment, and Julia Child (Streep), during the years Child was preparing her magnum opus.
The Julia Child sequences have the advantage in every way. For one thing, they are set in post-WWII Europe (mostly France), where Julia’s husband Paul — a deft Stanley Tucci — is stationed as a diplomat.
There, the bubbly Julia discovers French cooking and her gifts as a teacher and writer. These sections of the movie were based on Julia Child’s own writing, including her memoir “My Life in France.”
Amy Adams, normally an inventive actress, can’t find a way to make Julie Powell interesting, and some mild marital discord seems thrown in just to interrupt the blandness of this half of the picture. I sense (this is just a hunch) that blogging might not be the most exciting movie subject.
By contrast, seeing Streep give a master class in acting is sheer pleasure. She does Julia Child’s looping, trilling voice — but then you expected that (and a vintage “Saturday Night Live” clip, with Dan Aykroyd as Child, demonstrates how easy it is to impersonate her distinctive delivery).
Even more impressive is the way Streep creates a grown-up, fully-rounded person. Her playfulness as an actress prevents any hint of period-movie stuffiness from infecting the character.
In fact, it’d be great to see Streep return to the role in a sequel, ideally without writer-director Nora Ephron at the helm. Coming off the mega-bomb “Bewitched,” Ephron plays it super-safe here, loading up the cute factor like whipped cream on Baked Alaska.
I like whipped cream, and Julia Child probably did too, but balance is everything, in cooking and movies. This movie needs salt.