Julie and Julia

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It’s open for debate if this is actually interesting but I’m posting it anyway.

I saw Julie and Julia a few months ago (I think my father is pleased with his Christmas gift of a few years back when he gave me a copy of the two-volume set of Mastering the Art of French Cooking that he found in a used book store, he’s feeling very ahead of his time now that it’s trendy) and I liked it, it was a good movie. But there was one thing that bugged me a little bit.

I felt like the implication in the movie was that both Julie Powell and Julia Child started their projects as a substitute for what they really wanted: Julie Powell because she didn’t have a career and Julia Child because she wasn’t able to have children.

I got that impression from two scenes in the movie — the Julie Powell scene where she’s at lunch with her college friends and everyone is talking about their jobs, real estate deals, etc., and the Julia Child scene where she gets the letter from her sister announcing her pregnancy and says, “Oh, I’m so happy,” and starts crying.

Maybe I was reading too much into it — and I know it’s a Hollywood movie and Hollywood needs to accentuate the drama — but still I wondered about it.

So the next time I was at the library, I looked for the books on which the movie was based. Julie Powell’s book was checked out, but My Life in France was there, so I’ve been reading that, to see if Julia Child really was so torn up about not being able to have children that she decided to become a world-famous chef and cookbook writer instead.

So, for the record, here is what Julia Child says in My Life in France about having children. (This is in the context of a discussion of Paul’s troubles with amoebic dystentary as well as her own bouts of digestive distress.)

But when I continued to feel suddenly sick and gaseous, I declared: “Aha, pregnant at last!”

We had tried. But for some reason our efforts didn’t take. It was sad but we didn’t spend too much time thinking about it and never considered adoption. It was just one of those things. We were living very full lives. I was cooking all the time and making plans for a career in gastronomy. Paul — after all his years as a tutor and schoolteacher — said that he’d already spent enough time with adolescents to last him a lifetime. So it was.”

I guess “We were living very full lives” and “So it was” isn’t sufficiently dramatic for contemporary America, a little sobbing was needed.

Anyway, that’s it for the movie reviews. Hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas.

10 Responses to “Julie and Julia”

  1. Heather B Says:

    I am firmly on the “interesting” side of the debate. Thanks for posting and setting the record straight for those of us who are curious but not quite enough to actually do the research ourselves.

  2. Carrie Says:

    I’ve been meaning to read My Life in France but haven’t yet. I did read the Powell book a couple years ago, and I do remember a sense of “I had no life plan/centering principle/luck getting published so I did this.”

    Loved the movie, though.

  3. Amy Says:

    Thanks for doing the research. It’s amazing how Hollywood can take such liberties with a woman’s life.

    One thing I did not like about the movie was how they played up Julia’s mannerisms, to the point that people in the audience were laughing every time Meryl Streep came on the scene. Julia Child was a very intelligent woman of great accomplishment, but I thought they ridiculed her a bit too much.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    My Life in France is definitely worth reading. I started it around Thanksgiving and got about halfway through then got caught up in other things. Just finished it yesterday and I really liked it. And I’m glad that, courtesy of my father the used book junkie, I have not only volumes I and II of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but also The French Chef Cookbook, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, and Julia Child & Company. That may be the entire Julia Child oeuvre.

    My Life in France is great because you can tell how much Julia Child loved loved food and cooking. And France. She was so passionate about it, and that totally comes through in the book. Not pretentious at all, or full of herself, just fascinated by everything about it. I have a great fondness for people who love something so much they commit their lives to it without regard to what it’s going to do for them. She wasn’t thinking, “I need to write a cookbook so I can become rich and famous,” she went in with the attitude of “This is so amazing and wonderful, I need to learn everything I can about it and share it with everyone, because it’s so great.” I love that. And I think that’s actually the only way to be successful.

    One tidbit that publishing types might find interesting … Judith Jones, Julia Child’s editor at Knopf, got her start as an editorial assistant for an editor in France. She picked up a manuscript that her boss had rejected, and convinced him they had to publish it. The manuscript was Anne Frank’s diary.

  5. Sam Says:

    I knew Julia and her husband Paul slightly through my landlady when I lived in Cambridge, MA years ago. My landlady, Olivia, would fix dinner for the Childs but never went to great lengths. Her reasoning was that trying to compete with Julia was pointless, and that lively conversation at the dinner table was far better than any attempt she might make at a gourmet meal. Campbell’s tomato soup, with a slug of sherry, was always served before the main course!

  6. Michelle Says:

    I didn’t get the same impression from the movie. Yes, Julie Powell seemed to need something to fill her boring, trying days as a ‘government secretary’ processing 9/11 claims and something in which to compete with her friends, yet own on her own.

    For Child though, I saw the scene as a simple way to show that they had tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to conceive.

    It’s too bad Amy’s fellow movie goers were, perhaps, less sensitive to Streep’s fabulous acting. Seeing Streep on screen as Child was, for me, the best part of the movie.

  7. Sarah Says:

    Sadly it isn’t just Hollywood that takes this view of people who can’t have children. My husband and I can’t, sought treatment unsucessfully but never considered adoption.. it was more of a speed bump along our otherwise happy course. Others however assume that we are torn up or devestated over this and can’t understand that we are not. Drama sells, out here in the real world as well as in Hollywood I guess.

    Oh, and great acting by Streep I thought.. sheer genius!!

  8. Kate Says:

    I didn’t really see the connection either. I thought it portrayed Julia as an intelligent person who needed stimulating activities and challenges to occupy herself while her husband was at work. Bridge games and tennis with the other embassy wives just wasn’t going to cut it. I liked the movie quite a bit more than the book, which I stopped reading about halfway through, mostly because of the additional scenes with Meryl Streep. The book felt like an endless pity party.

  9. Sarah Says:

    The perspective in My Life in France is that of a 90-year old woman. I don’t think she was going to share her anguish over not being able to conceive with her nephew. She is equally taciturn about Paul’s illness and death, which I’m sure were very painful for her. It is my understanding that much of the movie was also based on letters Paul wrote to his twin brother during his life. Perhaps these go into more detail about what they were feeling at the time. Also, just as a personal aside, she can be heartbroken about not being able to conceive and still be a happy and fulfilled person.

  10. lessisenough Says:

    My Life in France was based on letters. Did Nora Ephron have access to the original letters as she worked on the movie screenplay? That would be interesting if the writers worked from original source material rather than just the autobiography.

    And certainly it’s true that Mme Child could have been very torn up about not being able to have children but preferred not to go into the details with her nephew, and obviously she could have been heartbroken but still managed to have a fulfilling life. Though it seems to me if she had been heartbroken, she would have said, “We were quite devastated,” rather than it wasn’t a big deal.

    Basically I just wondered if Julia Child’s response was the same in the book as it was in the movie, and it appears to me that the scene in the movie was somewhat editorialized. Whether it was editorialized based on additional information (such as the original source letters), or if it was editorialized based on a belief by the screenwriters that this was more likely what really happened, I don’t really know.

    I just wanted to say that the impression I got from the book regarding this point was not the same as I got from the film.


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