I got out to see Julie & Julia today–it was a very fine movie. Sentimental, of course, as are all of Nora Ephron’s movies, but it was a terrific story that centered on women characters–not just Julie Powell and Julia Child, but their wider circles of friends (and the occasional nemesis or frenemy) were dominated by women, and for the most part, by middle-aged and non-Hollywood looking women. Seriously–I’d bet that this movie cast more women actors than the rest of all of this summer’s movies combined, so for that reason alone it deserves the support of all right-thinking grown-ups everywhere. All of the major characters (except for Paul Child and Eric Powell) are women. Other people have written about the sympathetic and supportive husbands in this movie–you can go read elsewhere about them. I’m more interested in the women and the food.
The next most important stars were the dishes cooked and/or eaten by the Julie and Julia characters–one must admire the on-set chefs who needed to produce these dishes to be photographed and used as props. (The Julia Child scenes featured more actual eating–the Julie Powell scenes had more food-as-comedy-props in them–for example, the calf’s leg, the lobsters, and the chocolate cake, in pretty much the cliched ways you’d expect.) I was also thrilled that a Le Creuset casserole in the fabulous color called “flame” had significant cameos in both the 1950s and the 2002-03 scenes, since I own the very same dish! And I too have cooked many a fine Boeuf Bourguinon in the very pot you see here. (Watch for it!)
More thoughts, and a spoiler, after the jump:
Roxie’s World has a great review of the movie and of the reviews the movie has received so far, which I fully endorse. Roxie notes that many reviewers slight the Julie Powell portions of the film:
Some of the film’s critics . . . have . . . dismissed the Julie half of the film as wan, insipid, and overwhelmed by the Julia half. A. O. Scott in the Times blames the imbalance on a flaw in the film’s premise: “Julie is an insecure, enterprising young woman who found a gimmick and scored a book contract. Julia is a figure of such imposing cultural stature that her pots and pans are displayed at the Smithsonian.” Ann Hornaday in WaPo is even tougher on Julie, arguing that she is a whiny sad-sack whose cooking is only another sign of her self-absorption. “As for Powell,” Hornaday sniffs at the end of her review, “her project resulted in everything she wanted in the first place: fame, a book contract and a movie deal. That’s it. No matter how strenuously Ephron tries to draw parallels between her protagonists’ friendships, marriages, struggles and triumphs, it’s no use. In pure style and strength of character, Child reigns supreme. And Powell’s arms are too short to blog with God.”
The blogging bitches of Roxie’s World are here to tell you that such readings of Julie & Julia are as wrong as margarine, nonstick cookware, and frozen TV dinners. Moreover, they smack of ageism, elitism, don’t-touch-the-hem-of-the-iconism, and the print journalist’s fear and loathing of anything that has its origins in the blogosphere.
I’ve written here before that I didn’t think the book Julie & Julia was all that great–in fact, I said that “I enjoyed it, but thought that she needed a heavier-handed editor. It read too much like reading a blog–a little too informal, not quite as much time or thought given to the writing as I would have liked to see. . . it seemed like it was a better project to read about on a blog than in a book.” Ephron saw the value in Powell’s project and more fully realized “The Julie/Julia Project” than the book did. So what if she got “a book contract and a movie deal” out of it? The original “Julie/Julia Project” took moxie and drew a large and very interested audience. Besides, far, far dumber books and movies have been greenlighted, most of which were written and directed by men and starred men, and received much worse reviews than Julie & Julia has. That kind of carping should be beneath a writer with a perch at one of the few remaining top American dailies. (But darlings, it’s not nearly as great as tenure, is it?)
As for what Roxie calls “the print journalist’s fear and loathing . . . of the blogosphere,” I thought that it was interesting that this movie whose origins were in a blog started in 2002 actually demonstrated the real limitations of the blogosphere. Yes, Julie Powell got “a book contract and a movie deal” out of a project that started on her blog eventually, but only after her blog was fluffed and publicized more widely by dead-tree old media like the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor. The movie makes that very clear, as did Powell’s book. I’ve got a lot of readers for a writer who writes and self-publishes for free (and you get what you pay for here, folks!), but only a very few blogs have the kind of traffic that a bricks-and-mortar print institution can deliver. My view is that blogs and social networking sites can give you more visibility, and they might help you sell a few more books to your readers, but they alone won’t sell a book to a publisher.
Finally, some of you who expressed enthusiasm for The Joy of Cooking in the comments thread on one of my recent posts on American Cuisine before Julia Child, part I might wonder about the unflattering portrait of Irma Rombauer in Julie & Julia. (The woman who plays Rombauer is the same actress who played Charlotte York’s dreadful and domineering mother-in-law, “Bunny” in Sex and the City, if that gives you any hint of how we’re supposed to react to this character.) I have no idea if the scene has any basis in historical reality, but after Louisette Bertholle introduces Rombauer to Child and Simone Beck, their other co-author, Child gossips that “all she did was complain” about being ripped off by her publisher. But, the wise viewer knows that that’s something that women authors must watch out for–although Eprhon’s rendering of the conversation doesn’t make it clear either that Rombauer is foreshadowing Bertholle’s, Beck’s, and Child’s difficulties in securing a publisher, or if they’re just making fun of her as an unserious housewife who paid to have the first edition of her book published. (That’s the story the Rombauer character tells, along with confessing that she didn’t test all of the recipes she included in the book–something we’re supposed to disapprove of strenuously!)
Have any of the rest of you seen the movie? Did you have fun? What did you think?