Last night I finally got to see Julie and Julia, the much-talked-about movie based on the books Julia and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously  and My Life In France . Julia and Julia is a blog-turned-into-book that recounts how Julie Powell, an office cubicle worker who hates her job and is having an identity crisis, cooks her way through Julia Child’s first masterpiece Mastering The Art Of French Cooking (Volume 1)  as a project to bring meaning to her life. My Life In France is the autobiography of Julia Child, a legendary American cookbook author and TV chef. I thought I would put in both descriptions here, since contrary to what American may think, Julia Child is not universally known. In fact, as Anna Picard wrote on The Guardian’s World of Mouth blog , internet savvy non-USens are more likely to know about Julie Powell, Famous Blogger Who Became Bestselling Author, rather than Julia Child, an odd-looking woman who had some cooking gig on the telly years ago.
I pondered these things as made our way to a movie theater in Lyon, France, for a pre-premiere, or sneak preview (the movie officially opens here in France on the 16th). Julia Child may be credited with introducing fine French cooking techniques to American housewives, but she is not a household name in the country that inspired her by any means, even if she did receive a Legion d’Honneur  from the French government. I was even wondering if anyone else besides us would be there for the show. As it happens, the theatre (one of the smaller ones at the multiplex) was about 80% full, and as far as I could eavesdrop on, mostly by French people, not expats like me.
Perhaps because I viewed the movie in a place where Julia Child is not a culinary diety and pop-culture icon, I was able to watch the movie in a different way I think than most Americans. I think that this really is a movie about Julie, not Julia. The Julia parts are there to enlighten us about this legendary Julia figure, and why someone would give up a year of her life, more or less, to immersing herself in the Cult of Julia. Parallels are drawn between the lives of the two women, to be sure, but I think they are there to give weight and credence to Julie’s experience.
Like most people who have written about this movie, I did yearn for more Julia, a whole movie about Julia. The scenes of France and Paris in the late ’40s onwards are gorgeous, and the acting of Meryl Streep, Stanley Tucci, and everyone else in the Julia segments are just wonderful. I wonder if there is enough footage there to cobble together an only-Julia Director’s Cut version (I doubt it, but it would be nice). But that’s another movie entirely. In this movie, Julia is perfect because she’s a mythical figure. She’s the Julia that Julie worships and idolizes, and the Julia that is actually a reality in Julie’s world, the one who tells a reporter that she dislikes whatever it is that Julie is doing (though it’s not specified in the movie or in reports about the real-life incident exactly what she objected to) is not really the same person.
Compared to the perfect Julia, Julie is going to come off worse by default. How can a depressed almost-30something woman stuck in a boring job, living somewhere she can’t stand, compete with a woman who seems to be on an extended honeymoon in a dreamlike city? More to the point, she’s just a blogger. If you have been blogging for any length of time, you may know by now that the world at large, the part that only use the internets for email and looking at cute cat pictures, not to mention more than a few “professional” journalists and writers, tend to sneer at bloggers. They regard them - us - as self-centered twits who gaze too intently at our navels, then have the nerve to expose our navel lint to the general public. Amy Adams made her about as appealing as possible probably, but she had an impossible task to begin with.
Nevertheless, Julie is the one who most people are closer to in reality. We can dream about and aspire to becoming like Julia. But when we blog, in some way we are being Julie; using our writing to express ourselves, as an outlet for our thoughts or our stunted creativity, to find an audience out there who just might appreciate us. There are thousands, if not millions, of Julies out there. I’m one of them.
When I started Just Hungry in late 2003, I was at a pretty low point mentally. I had recently finished writing a book about web tech things, which ended up being something very different from what I set it out to be. I had a personal blog  already, but somehow could not get myself out of the rut of writing about web-design this or CSS-that. Not that there is anything wrong with those subjects, but I felt like writing for my blog was like taking a busman’s holiday - I could never get away from the day job. So I started a little blog about one of my lifelong obsessions, food . My blog did not grow as fast as it should have perhaps - I was very unfocused, and I even stopped blogging for no good reason  during 2004. And my writing at the start was pretty blah. (Derail: I got a chuckle out of this post on Tigers and Strawberries  that I stumbled on when I was looking up links for this article. Apparently, my blog “iwasjustreallyveryhungry.com” (which was never the actual URL, though my blog’s name used to be I Was Just Really Very Hungry) was dissed by a food anthology editor way back then.) Still, it brought a different kind of focus to my life.
I almost clapped my hands at the little things in the movie that only a blogger could appreciate - when Julie gets her first comment; when her husband tells her she has the no. 3 blog on Salon.com. (I never got hot sauce in the mail from a reader though. That part is sort of zeitgeist I guess. If it really happened, it was ok in 2003 perhaps, but 2009, I think we are wary of random strangers knowing our real addresses, let alone sending us food in the mail!) I’ve had those little “You Like Me, You Really Like Me!” moments too - when Just Hungry was a Featured Blog on Typepad , its original home; when I got my first email from a mainstream media reporter asking for an interview; when I got a heartfelt email from someone saying how my bento recipes were being used as inspiration by a group of women with eating disorders, to get them back into eating small portions of real food. Being quoted several times over in a feature article in the New York Times  this week was another highlight. And if getting a book contract is supposed to be the measure of a blogger’s success, I have one actually, and am in the throes of working frantically on the first draft. (Details to come.)
I can also relate very well to the struggle of trying to cook in an inadequate kitchen. I’ve been doing that for most of this year, as we move around from holiday home to holiday home, waiting for the Final Word to come on whether we can purchase the house we want or not. (I’ve been technically homeless since March. It’s really getting old.) The desire to cook something delicious that uplifts the soul and fills the belly can overcome a tiny two-burner stove that slopes towards the center so that you can only cook in a pan straddling the two burners, and the limitations of a kitchen sink placed at such an odd angle that you bang your head on a hard corner cupboard every time you try to rinse some vegetables.
So despite her foibles and the comparative smallness of her vision, I loved the Julie parts as much as I loved the larger-than-life portrayal of the larger-than-life Julia Child.
One other thing: I think that this is a movie about writing, as much as it is about food. It’s about the power of writing to inspire and change lives. Julia’s life is transformed first by falling in love with French food, but it’s really changed by her book. Julie’s life is changed mostly by her blog, and her book - the cooking thing was mostly a hook to hang her writer’s hat onto.
In any case, I think that Julie and Julia is a wonderful movie, that should be appreciated on its own merit, rather than trying to twist it into something that it is not.