I finally went to see the film Julie and Julia. I had been putting it off: I feared disappointment, deeply.
I own a venerable hardcover edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, passed on to me by my mother, like a family heirloom. I’ve read the book Julie and Julia by Julie Powell, I’ve read Julia Child’s memoir My Life in France. Food blogger and memoir writer, I entered that cinema like a scholar about to encounter a sacred, primary text.
Alone in the theatre with about 7 other women, I laughed, sighed, groaned, gasped, and even cried, like any fan.
Later, after the buttery glow of the film had worn off, I thought about how eagerly the film engages in myths of the artist as solitary genius, with Julie Powell’s appearance in The New York Times and subsequent book deals the ultimate proof of her success. The film, like so many pop cultural artifacts, had moments that simultaneously conveyed the airy stuff of fantasy and the grit of authenticity.
In my world, blogging (and even writing books) is an endeavour with contradictory affects: solitary, exciting, frustrating, comfortingly relational. A blog is a public practice, which is one of the things that makes it different from just writing in a journal. A blog can be a bit of a burden, like having a newspaper column except there’s no money in it and you don’t get seated at the best tables in restaurants (indeed, in the film we do see Julie fretting about what her readers will think if she doesn’t report what happened when a famous editor bails on dinner). A blog is a regular practice, a discipline, a kind of ritual for both writer and reader. And, it is a community endeavour (a blind spot in the film).
For all its quietude and isolation, my blog has brought people to me – chefs and cooks, foodies, queers, other East Europeans. I have even been courted by someone who read the entire blog from start to finish and then commenced a lavishly written email correspondence composed in the language of food.
The “Julie” part of the film captures some but not all of this, as when she lies in her blog for the first time, for fear her boss might read it, realizing for the first time the tension between public and private inherent in social media. But it’s not quite lying that one does to resolve this tension. It’s more about developing a delicately crafted and nuanced voice that acknowledges a diversity of readers, some more invested than others. We all do it now, whether it’s a Facebook status update or a blog entry.
The “Julia” part of the film is fulsome, deeply sensual. I appreciated the emphasis on Julia Child’s search for meaning as a 50’s/60’s housewife. I know women in 2009, in comfortable marriages, discomfitingly haunted by this quandary. I loved the large bodies and appetites of main female characters (it’s still taboo to be female and admit you love to eat). I enjoyed the robust sexuality of the Childs.
After the movie I drifted home on a wave of pleasure and good humour – almost as though I’d just eaten an incredible dish of sole meuniere. It’s no work of genius, this film, but it does capture a zeitgeist, a particular moment when food, writing, and an alternative female sensibility, have converged.
Now I’m writing a book based on my food blog. I’ve been joking with my friends : Think. About. Who. Should. Play. You. In. The. Movie. Version.