Sunday, August 9, 2009

Julie & Julia & Me

Yeah, so I’m blogging about a film about a blogger. Sorta.

Julie & Julia is one delightful flick. Even being interrupted by a 45-minute evacuation from the theater didn’t hurt. (We were never told why the alarms went off.) The performance of Meryl Streep is everything you see in the trailers. It was just fun, so much fun I was sorry to see it end.

But along with my engagement in the dual storyline, (I’m not going into that here. It’s just a google away.) I found myself reacting strongly to the experience of nascent blogger Julie Powell working her way through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 365 days—and that of nascent chief Child’s in France.

I could certainly identify with Julie’s concerns that she’s just sending her writing out into a literary version of lost in space. I still feel that way, even after almost a year. Is anybody out there? Does anybody give a damn?

I chuckled at her delight when her blog receives its first comment, only to find it’s from her mother—real close to home. And her excitement at getting 65 comments from “people I don’t know.” Here, I started slipping over into more dangerous territory—envy. Powell developed a real conversation with her “readers” who even sent her gifts through the mail.

My own stats, which are too easily checked, are silly low. Yet I am determined to continue. The climb up is incremental. Unlike Julie, I have no “gimmick.” That’s what the reviewers are calling her Julie/Julia project. However, I beg to differ.
What separates me from both Julie and Julia is passion, a focused passion. In both their cases it is food. Well, not just food. I am passionate about food, eating it that is. Their passion lay in the process, in the preparation of (and then the consuming of) said food.

Julie nurtures a love of cooking as a means of getting her through an otherwise drab existence (not unlike Child, by the way), before she starts her project. It’s not an artificial construct. Without that innate passion, neither of them would have soldered through to the end. Julie, her year of cooking dangerously, and Julia, fearlessly going where no American woman had gone before. Neither had a smooth ride, although both are blessed with amazingly supportive spouses.

The so-called “gimmick” of cooking her way through Child’s tome, is really what we journalists call a “hook.” It’s a means to draw people into the young woman’s life, as she struggles and juggles to navigate the year without losing her job, her husband or her sanity.

For Julia, her passions fall upon her rather late in life. She is still a virgin at 40 when she meets the man she marries—also a most passionate relationship, by the way. Her cooking career begins after as “something to doooooo.” Julia masters the cooking easily enough, but getting that now familiar opus published, while following her adored husband with his diminishing career around Europe almost proves her undoing.

What saves the film from ending up as a fairytale, is the reaction of then 90-year-old Julia Child to Julie’s blog—she is unimpressed, calling the young woman disrespectful and not serious. Thankfully for the upset young woman, this news comes to her after the project is complete and accolades pour in. Her husband rightly reminds her that it’s the “Julia in her head” that matters.

Since Nora Ephron combined a bio partly penned by Child and her grand nephew, along with Julie’s book on her project for the movie, we are left with the real sense, that if Child were still alive, this film would not have seen the light of day. And that would have been a shame.

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