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"Julie & Julia" is a real-life fairy tale, times two. With food.

Lots and lots of food.

Nora Ephron's adaptation (she also directed) of blogmeister Julie Powell's memoir and legendary chef Julia Child's "My Life in France" is delicious fun. It spares no lip-smacking, cooing over cassoulet or near-orgasmic reactions to chocolate. The calorie count on this film is off the charts.

But without yet another reliable turn from filmdom's finest actress (probably its finest actor, period), Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia" would be as vaporous as the wine that burns off when cooking your boeuf bourguignon. Her buoyant, giddy Julia Child is spot-on, yet her performance is no mere caricature. In another actress' hands, it might have been. She's a pleasure to watch, even if you never saw the actual Julia Child, who passed away in 2004. As with her Miranda Priestly in "The Devil Wears Prada," Streep inhabits a character (this one real — Priestly was, of course, a thinly veiled takeoff on Vogue's Anna Wintour) who dominates the screen. She has us at hello (or bonjours, as American expatriate Julia might say in her beloved Paris), and we want more and more of her as the film unfolds.

That's the frustration of "Julie & Julia." It's by design two stories in one, literally paralleling Child's life with diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci, solid) in France in the 1950s and Powell's (Amy Adams) life with yuppie husband Eric (Chris Messina) in post-9/11 Queens. The action alternates back and forth between Child's experiences at Le Cordon Bleu through her quest to publish the now-iconic book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," and plucky Powell's "Julie/Julia Project" — cooking all 524 recipes in the tome written by her idol, and sharing the blood, sweat and sauces with online readers. (See http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/).

The script takes every opportunity to hold up a mirror in time: Julia was a disenchanted government worker, Julie is a disenchanted government worker; Julia needs an outlet for her passion (besides her hubby), Julie needs an outlet for her passion (besides her hubby); Julia experiences failures, then ultimate success; Julie experiences failures, then ultimate success. There's nothing much subtle about "Julie & Julia." In trademark Nora Ephron Film fashion, the mood is bright (Paris is at its most Paris-y; even the dump Julie and Eric reside in, above a pizza joint, has rooftop charm), the music is coy and love is just so lovely.

Still, "Julie & Julia" is a winning filmgoing experience — mostly when the focus is on Streep and Tucci, who are warm and altogether believable. Adams, a gifted actress unfortunately as overshadowed here by Streep (though the two have no scenes together) as she was in "Doubt" last year, is playing a character who even describes herself as narcissistic and whose spouse is one of those alternately wry and "sensitive" yupsters. Even when she makes it big, Julie knows she's no Julia — and we know it, too.

Within the Child story, there's a memorable bit from Jane Lynch (a staple of Christopher Guest's offbeat comedies) as Julia's even-taller sister, Dorothy. But the true supporting role of "Julie & Julia" is that played by all the sumptuous dishes prepared and consumed throughout. That popcorn in your lap's going to look pretty lame by comparison.

"Julie & Julia." Rated: PG-13. Running time: 2 hours, 3 minutes. 3 stars.

To find out more about David Coddon and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.


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