Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Wednesday Watch: Julie & Julia

This week started out with a bang. I can’t wait to talk more about it, but I found it quite coincidental that just last week Netflix brought the movie Julie & Julia to our doorstep. I adore this movie and not just because it’s directed by Nora Ephron (You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless In Seattle) or Meryl Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance (divine!). There’s a strong writerly theme throughout both Julia Child’s post-war storyline and Julie Powell’s modern-day plotline. Which is why I’m tackling this movie for this week’s edition of Wednesday Watch.

I love this movie for so many reasons. First of all, it makes me hungry. Oh so hungry, particularly the scenes with the boeuf bourguignon! Nom! I forgoed the more practical Spanish foreign language courses for French because I’m in love with everything Paris. I thought the Childs’ lives in France were fascinating, particularly the timing which we don’t see a lot of in either fiction or non-fiction. It’s also the story of two marriages. Julia and Paul’s love story is surprising and wonderful and I dare anyone not to love Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci together. I’m a fan of Amy Adams and thought she was fun as the character of Julie Powell, author of Julie & Julia and the 2002 Julie/Julia Project blog.

From a writer’s standpoint—because “from a cook’s standpoint” so wouldn’t ring true from my non-cook self—what Julie Powell did in 2002 with her blog and long-term goal of cooking through Julia Child’s cookbook is absolutely inspirational. For writers who lack motivation, it’s something to see. Something else inspirational and more directly linked to writing is Julia Child’s path to publication. We see her go first of all from newbie to gourmand. Her dedication to cooking and to the collaboration with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle in the making, revising and publication of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which, by the way, is now in its 49th printing six years after her death) is a determination I admire as a writer. When one publishing avenue has closed, Julia revitalizes the others by reminding them why they began writing the book in the first place. And then in another scene she’s packing away a copy of the manuscript and says something every writer who’s ever submitted their work will identify with: “I just want to savor this moment. The moment when anything is possible. The moment that you just imagine they’re going to love everything you did and it’s going to sell a million copies and change the world.”

A particularly favorite scene is one where Julia is in a rare case of doldrums after a rejection from a publisher. The spouse of any writer—fiction, non-fiction, reference, cookbook, whatever—is a brave individual. Here we see Paul Child picks her up with a litany I’ve heard from my own spouse repeatedly over the years: “Someone is going to publish your book. Someone is going to read your book and realize what you’ve done. Because your book is amazing. Your book is a work of genius. Your book is going to change the world.” At the end of the scene, Tucci also says something that my husband has said in response to rejection or criticism which always makes me laugh and which had me rolling on the floor during the movie: “F--- them!” :) Similarly, I’ve had many talking sessions like the one Julie and her husband, Eric, have on their bed after she receives bad news. Again, brave people marry writers. I loved the fact that Julie & Julia acknowledges that fact. A factual quote from Paul Child in a toast to Julia says, “You are the butter to my bread and the breath to my life.” This is something that every supportive spouse deserves to hear from their significant other, whether they be writer or whatever else.

Did anybody get chills when Julie replaces her phone messages after her article appeared in the New York Times? I certainly did. Though it’s disheartening that Julia Child didn’t appreciate what Julie Powell did, it’s also a lesson in idolatry, that idols not always who you think they are but it’s still no less important to have idols, to have the kind of inspiration that Julie Powell did. And it’s nice that the movie also shows Julia Child at her lowest point and almost simultaneously, Judith Jones, her eventual editor, receives a copy of her manuscript and loves it. What if Julia had quit? What if you, as a writer, quit after rejection or criticism and missed out on something as wonderful as Julia’s success? No matter how long it takes, if you continue to learn and grow and weather the crazy process that is the journey to your dream, you will be rewarded for it. [Insert Paul’s pep talk again here :)]

The scene that finally brought me to tears was the one in which Julia finally receives the acceptance letter from Knopf. The amazing actress that she is, Meryl Streep so perfectly embodies the nerves and subsequent joy that that moment brings, something I experienced this week.

Finally, I come to Meryl dedication to the character of Julia Child. Can I say perfection? It was important to Streep to stand at Julia’s actual height of 6’2” so she could know what it was like to tower over everyone else and how that led Julia to treat people with the kindness and cheer she was famous for. It takes work for an actress as well-known as she is to sink completely into character and make us forget anything except the person she is portraying. If you have not yet seen the film, I highly recommend it just for this as well as the subtle humor that is a stable of every Nora Ephron movie.

And My Life in France by Julia Child is now on my birthday list!

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