I saw “Julie & Julia” in the theatres when it came out in 2009. It was a strange sensation: I absolutely loved the parts about Julia Child and thought Meryl Streep just knocked it out of the ballpark. However, the parts about Julie Powell, whose blog-then-book the movie was based on, left me less than impressed.
It was only when I rewatched it that I could finally put my finger on why I didn’t like the parts about Julie.
First of all, I just couldn’t “get” Julie’s character. This isn’t a criticism of the real Julie Powell, but of the screenwriter’s and/or director’s lack of skill. Yes, we get that she’s 30 and has a job that is emotionally toxic. Join the club. She also has this mysterious circle of successful, self-absorbed friends who meet regularly for Cobb salads, which Julie hates. So why does she do it? The Cobb salad scene could have been a great place to show us Julie’s real feelings about food, and women’s relationship to it. Instead, it seems like a diversion. (And for the record, if any bitch tries to take a breadstick out of my hand, she’ll draw back a bloody stub.)
The other thing I couldn’t get was the big fight with her husband, ostensibly the climax of the movie. I don’t understand what they’re fighting about. I think he’s upset with her because she’s being “narcissistic” – a charge we women writers have to fight against constantly – despite the fact that he’s getting a really fat, home-cooked meal every night. Yet, later, when they “make up” (he just comes back home), the verbal salve she administers is to not call him an angel, but a “terrible person.” Did I miss something?
However, the thing about “Julie & Julia” that irks me the most has to do with their respective writing careers. Remember, the two women weren’t just cooks, they were writers. Julia Child worked with her collaborators for several years to perfect a French cookbook for Americans. They were rejected by publishers before finally getting picked up by Knopf.
By contrast, Julie Powell started a blog about cooking her way through Child’s cookbook. While there’s nothing wrong with a cooking blog, I don’t quite see anything earth-shattering about it. And, let’s be honest, she was riding Child’s coat-tails. Yet, before one year had passed (she hadn’t even finished the project), she and her blog were featured in the New York Times. Predictably, agents and publishers blow up her phone. She never even had to write a proposal. It seems to me success fell into her lap for no other reason than she was in the right place (New York City) at the right time (2002). Maybe it’s just sour grapes, as a writer who has worked hard for years, with no success, it’s galling.