Friday, August 21, 2009

Mixed feelings about Julie and Julia

If I were a movie critic, I'd rave about Julie and Julia, the movie. Meryl Streep and Amy Adams give excellent performances. It's a well-written script with solid technical work and direction. If you want an entertaining experience, go see it.

I went to see the movie for two reasons: food and Meryl Streep, and the latter did not disappoint. I am conflicted, however, about whether or not food came out a winner in the film. I was really hoping that people would leave the theater with an increased desire to cook real food, but I'm not sure that happened at all. For those of you not familiar with the film, it's a true story of two women, Julie Powell and Julia Child. Julie Powell is a secretary and blogger in 2002. Julia Child needs no introduction, but this film covers her life in France when she attends the Cordon Bleu and writes her first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Julie spends one year in the movie cooking her way through that cookbook, which is 700+ pages and contains 500+ recipes.

It sounds good on paper (or a computer screen), but in the movie it looks really hard. Julie has more than one mental meltdown, and it seems that they seldom eat dinner before 10 p.m. That little fact right there will validate eating out for a lot of people. Yes, Julia Child made French cooking accessible for us servantless American cooks, but it is kind of nuts to attempt to cook something that complicated every night after you've been away at work all day. And it's not exactly healthy to eat such rich food every day. Julie complains about getting fat, and her husband is seen with a bottle of antacids more than once. Those recipes are for Saturday night dinner parties and Sunday night family dinners, not daily fare.

Good cooking and sensible eating is not that hard, people! Nor does it make you fat or give you indigestion or result in frequent mental anguish. The recipes I post on here are delicious, quick, simple, and thrifty. Real people don't spend three hours in the kitchen every day. So, I doubt that the movie has really made a difference in the status of food. Those of us who already love it will find the movie charming, and those who don't have time to cook will find validation. Sigh...

But the real story behind Julie Powell is the thing that I dislike. In the movie, we discover that Julia Child does not like the blog, but we never learn why. So, I did a bit of sleuthing around the Internet and found two different sources that said she didn't think that Julie really cared about cooking. Julia Child's editor at Knopf, Judith Jones, said she did not "respect" the blog. Jones said Julie "did not care one bit about cooking" and was just trying to cash in on Julia's famous name and book. (Another blogger spent a year living Oprah and got a book deal also, so it's not an uncommon idea.) I visited the old blog, and after reading a few posts, I agree that it doesn't sound like she really cares about cooking. It was just a shtick to get a book deal, and even though I'm not Julia Child, I'm disgusted, so I can only imagine how annoyed she must have been by the blog.

Amy Adams was far more likable than the real Julie Powell, who dropped F-bombs as often as eggs in a quiche. And the way she uses them, it definitely gives you the feeling that she doesn't care much about cooking. In one post, she says, "I was supposed to degrease the sauce, but f--- it." (Hey, Julie! Degreasing would really reduce the antacids your husband needs, and it would be less calories for you!) And she writes as much about watching television and getting drunk as she writes about cooking. No, I didn't read every last entry; it was just too painfully boring, whining, and uninspiring to continue.

On a positive note, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is number one on Amazon. I can only hope that people will actually use it once in a while.

This post is part of Fight Back Fridays. For more posts on real food, visit Food Renegade.


Unknown said...

See, it's interesting, because I don't see Julie and Julia as being about food at all.
I know that food is ostensibly the thing that connects the two women and that the Food Network is really playing up that angle, but it's much more of a "woman coming into her own" story.
Now, I haven't seen the movie yet, but I read the book because it was recommended to me by a friend. Julie Powell is neurotic, irreverent, and hungry for fame, but, in my opinion, tells a very authentic story of the search for meaning in your late 20s and early 30s.
So often I feel like I'm living the movie Groundhog Day, with nothing to separate one endless day from another. And I actually *like* my job.
I've actually been considering doing a similar project by cooking through a different cookbook, like How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. Partly this is because I'd like to teach myself to cook. But also I'd like to have a project; a goal.
Julie and Julia both use food to achieve their goal of finding purpose and meaning in their life. Food might indeed be the answer for me as well.

Deborah Niemann said...

You make an excellent point, ginnybelle. I guess I was so disappointed because I was so hoping that it would be about food. And I was terribly disappointed to realize that Julie Powell doesn't really seem to care much about food or cooking. Our diverse reactions definitely support the theory that the meaning is in the receiver -- and it certainly explains all the one-star and five-star book reviews on Amazon. People seem to either love it or hate with nothing in between. Good luck in your search for something meaningful! I found my purpose on 32 acres in the middle of nowhere. Sounds like you might be on the right track.

Annie said...

Russ Parsons, the first major newspaper writer to report on the blog, says that La Julia's (I mean that as a title of respect) main beef was that her recipes were deliberately and painstakingly made simple and Julie's difficulties with them hurt her pride. Mr. Parsons was also the one who printed out the blog for La Julia's review. Of course, anyone who can't be bothered to perform crucial steps in a recipe is clearly not serious.

Anonymous said...

Have you read the book? There is a reason she had a "breakdown" - this isn't sensible, home cooking, it is french and very difficult to a novice.

No one who read the blog, read "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", read Julie's book or saw this movie is going to rush home to cook.

Sorry to disagree with you as I like your blog, but it is [IMO] a very high expectation to think that any of those mediums, including the movie, would inspire a home cooked dinner.

Shula said...

I saw the movie and liked it, although I thought there should be much more Julia and much less Julie. I do want Julia Childs' cookbook but have put it on my Christmas list. It made me look up some cooking sites online and, I am now a huge fan of and have even tried a few recipes. Oh and during the movie lots of people kept making yummy noises, so I hope the audience I was in felt inspired to cook...although I know we all felt inspired to eat lol.

Deborah Niemann said...

Thanks for the link to Smitten Kitchen; I'm drooling all over my keyboard! Two people have told me they felt inspired to cook after seeing the movie; one said she was inspired to go back to France so she could eat more French food. :)

MaskedMan said...

It's an ill wind that bolws no good: At least Julia Child's books are moving off the shelves at a greater rate, and people are trying out the recipes.

Another I'd like to see sell even better than it does is "The Joy of Cooking." It was a the wedding gift we most treasured, and it's been a constant reference all these years.


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