I finally got around to watching Julie and Julia. Thought it was a strangely bifurcated movie. Meryl Streep was fabulous, Stanley Tucci excellent too, and the whole Julia Child narrative very enjoyable overall. Amy Adams on the other hand was irritating and off-putting, the character Julie a narcissistic whiner, her husband deeply unappealing. Was this part of the movie filmed by a different director?
The movie felt to me like a bitter satire on the glib hollowness of contemporary life.
According to the movie, Julia and her husband’s 1950s expatriate experience is characterized by great beauty and charm, human connection, leisurely, unpretentious daily life, pleasure in friends and lovers, laughter, commitment to craft & cultural tradition, rewarding hard work. And, at a meta-level, by fantastic acting and fine film-making: Paris looks wonderful, Julia Child’s marriage is loving and playful, and Streep a total delight.
21st century Queens/NYC, on the other hand, is sort of a nightmare — of fake friends, narcissism, empty careers, soul-crushing architecture, and irritating, mannered acting. The Julie character has her contrived obsession with Julia Child, which feels mirrored or multiplied by Amy Adams’ over-perky portrayal of the character. I just found it depressing. It’s a totally unfair comparison, of course, apples and oranges: on the one hand, a major figure of 20th century American and international life; on the other, this self-involved would-be writer in Queens trying to promote her blog.
It feels so… sad, is if this is the choice (not that we have a choice):
Vibrant creativity, pleasure, friendship, beauty and sensual delight, immersion in complex and sustaining cultural traditions, passionate work performed for its own sake, and brilliant originality (Julia/ mid-century) vs.
Blogging and self-promotion — life lived as a PR stunt — in an apartment above a pizzeria in Queens (Julie/ contemporary life). Julie can be read as a figure for post-9/11 NYC and America: surrounded by reminders of the trauma (she works for the city taking calls from 9/11 victims) and doing anything she can to forget, to sublimate or repress, to withdraw into manic private activities and little projects of self-making. (At the risk of being humorless about it, there’s something off-putting about the way Julie completely tunes out the voices of the 9/11 victims in order to submerge herself completely in her foodie-Francophile fantasy.)
I liked that the movie admitted that Julia Child herself hated Julie’s blog. This felt surprisingly honest because it works against the broader parallel the movie tries to put in place — with Julie getting her book contract for her blog (ludicrously) posited as equivalent to Julia’s publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I wonder if this was contractual — if Julia or her people would only allow the film to go forward with this proviso of Julia’s disapproval?
The meaning of a “book” seems so different in the two contexts. For both Julia and Julie, the book contract is a personal fulfillment, a career goal, and a vindication. For Julia, though, the book is a summing up of an extended immersion into rich cultural traditions; an expression of her own love of food and French culture; a pedagogical tool to teach others to learn the same pleasures. For Julie, the book is a media event — the key moment is when she gets a write-up by Amanda Hesser in the Dining section of the New York Times and the agents start calling.
From “Julia” to “Julie“: the supplemental “e” trivializes, empties out substance, so food becomes the plaything of “foodies.”
Maybe the movie is actually deeply clever and sly? All this is intentional, and the movie is itself about the ways culture and creativity have now been reduced to shameless plagiarism of the past and narcissistic PR projects in personal branding.
p.s. Sarah once sat next to Julia Child at a hair salon in Cambridge; Julia complimented her hair.
p.p.s. Since I’m (partially) knocking Nora Ephron’s movie, I’ll also mention that I thought her recent Girl with the Dragon Tattoo parody in the New Yorker was hilarious.
p.p.s. Thinking more about it, I’m probably too hard on Amy Adams above; she probably did about as well as she could with this material & character.