17 August 2009
Julie and Julia: my year of cooking dangerously, by Julie Powell. It has been adapted into a movie and directed by Nora Ephron (of the Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks winners of Sleepless in Seattle and You've got mail, as well as When Harry met Sally, Heartburn and Silkwood) so you've got some idea of what to expect before you enter the theatre: an enjoyable, well-written, visually appealing movie with a fun but not overwhelming soundtrack. You get what you expect -- along with the added bonus of a cast including Stanley Tucci and Meryl Streep (who were together in The Devil wears Prada; a pairing long overdue! They play off each other so well, I'm convinced they've been lifelong friends)
The movie tells two stories in tandem: Julia Childs with her husband, Paul, in Paris, discovering the glory of French food,the passion she didn't know she had for cooking, and the hard work it took to have her cookbook published; and the true story of Julie Powell who blogged about the challenge she gave herself to cook her way through that very cookbook. On the screen, both Julie and Julia are likable (though very different) women, linked by their discovery of French cookery and the support they had from understanding husbands. I was more taken by Meryl Streep in the role of Julia Childs, her utter joy and exuberance, and the portrayal of the Childs' relationship. The modern story, while interesting, lacked the charm and delight of the other.
For which reason, the book was a disappointment, as in it, Julie recounts episodes from the year of her Julie/Julia Project, with only brief and mostly imagined glimpses of Julia and Paul. Julie, I'm sorry to say, struck me as crude, intolerantly Democrat (politics and her political opinions figure often in her stories), irrational, moody...I don't want to say any more because she is a real person, and she told her own story focusing on specific aspects of herself. I'm sure she's a very different person in real life. I didn't like the person in the book, though many of the episodes she recounts made me laugh out loud, and I ended up admiring what she accomplished during the year, and what she gleaned from the experience.
I wondered all the way through the book why I continued to read it, for while I'm an avowed bookworm, I feel no compunction about either leaving a book unread fullstop, or skipping through it and reading the ending only, and despite the humour, I was really, really put off by Julie. It wasn't until the very last pages that I found the pearl: Julie tells of learning about Julia's death, and thinking about what Julia meant to her. She learned from Julia the importance of living with joy, and tackling life with joy, whether that is in blogging, or in hacking marrow out of beef bones. It is that joy that Meryl Streep portrays so clearly on the screen, and which was missing from the book.