SPOILER ALERT: MOVIE DETAILS REVIEWED. Read at your own discretion.
I have a shelf full of my Mojo Movies. These are the movies that I practically know by heart. The ones that I’m not ashamed to admit are in my library, and if I can’t convince you to watch them, I don’t care. These movies, in one aspect or another, are very personal to me.
“Julie & Julia” is up there in my Top Five so I was thrilled when my dear friend, Camryn, who was previously unaware of my affinity for the film, asked if I’d seen it and said, “I see that in you. A lot.”
I also love that it’s based on a true story. Let’s face it: Julia Child would not have been a star in today’s age of “beauty before talent”. She was tall, awkward, at times clumsy. And that voice! That endearing, wondering way we all copy when we say “Bon Appetit!” Julia and I have more than her awkwardness in common. I love cooking. I would love to write a cookbook.
Julie Powell is happily married, and not-so-happily downsized to an apartment above a pizzeria. We also have some things in common. She finds her solace in cooking. And she also has a cat (And at least, for the movie, she has short auburn hair!).
This movie makes me want to try French cooking while listening to accordions or violins. And anyone who truly knows me, knows that’s not me. But because of this movie, because of Julie & Julia, it could be. I could broaden those horizons. Just a little.
So here’s Julie Powell. Stuck in a no-go government job, helping others cope with the aftermath of 9-11. She finds her escape with her cooking. She’s also a struggling [read: wanna-be, unrecognized] writer.
A little down, but never depressed, Julie says “You know what I love about cooking? … I love that after a day when nothing is sure, and when I say nothing, I mean nothing, you can come home and absolutely know that if you add egg yolks to chocolate and sugar and milk, it will get thick. It’s such a comfort.”
That’s how I feel about cooking. Also about writing. It was brought to my attention nearly a decade ago that I am healthiest when I am writing. It was an observation during a trying time when I was more down than up. And one day, I read some old writings, and just for something to do, wrote a short poem. It changed my life. My friend, seeing the improved outlook asked, “What happened to you today?” I merely smiled and said, “I wrote.”
There’s the few awkward jokes that Julie tells, that no one understands. Did I mention, awkward? Been there, done that. Further humiliation is rained down on her when her “friend” runs an article and basically slams Julie as an over-the-hill woman who is full of unfulfilled goals and failures. Finding more solace in that night’s dinner, her husband suggests she combine her gifts of cooking and writing. After all, he says, “Even Julia Child wasn’t always Julia Child.” The Julie/Julia Project blog was born.
I truly enjoy how the movie switches back and forth from the two stories, the two eras. History and the future do blend together in the present, and I love how this movie combines, reflects, and transitions as if there is no time/space barrier. Two happily married women who love to cook and write about it. Yeah. I’m on board with that.
Julia’s husband Paul is intensely supportive as she finds her way in and out of women’s groups and gatherings, trying to find her place with something that fulfills her. They agree the one thing she does well is eat, and so she enrolls at the Cordon Bleu to learn to cook better.
Julie starts her first day of the Project whisking butter into submission. She makes, and eats, a wonderful dinner. The writes about it. I mean, how much better could life get, right?! I could do that!
I am happy to say one thing I do NOT have in common with Julie and Julia is the parent-thing. My mother has always been supportive of my writing. Actually, no. That’s not strong enough. My entire family supports my writing. They encourage it. They push it. If they could manage it, I’m sure I wouldn’t have to work a day job as long as I kept up with my writing.
Even the Administrator for the Cordon Bleu tried to fail Julia. But she refused to let that stop her. No person, no matter what their authority over her, could take away her dream. And she continued to press on toward her goal.
When Julie eats her first egg, it’s amazing. What’s kept her from eating them her whole life, “ever. Ever!”? Fear. She was afraid how it would turn out. What it would taste like. There was never a fear of physical harm. Just reaction. Take a note, Mojo.
Even when it seems she has no audience, she continues to cook and blog. I know that feeling, too.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie has nothing to do with cooking or writing. The Childs are hosting a Valentine’s Day dinner, and Paul simply states he was once at dinner with his friend Julia, “and it turned out to be Julia. It turned out to be Julia all along.” Simple. Direct. No questions asked. They were meant to be, and they knew it. And that is the story they tell of how they got together.
The very next scene shows Julie Powell checking the gifts from her readers, and the thrill of having twelve comments on her blog. From strangers. Yes. I know that joy, too. Her excitement inspires me.
Julie comes to the chapter she doesn’t care for. Aspics.
Her husband suggests she lies her way through them, but Julie ignores that idea. She can’t lie. But the stress overwhelms her and so ensues a mini breakdown, only to soon be followed by another one. Which she quickly overcomes as a reporter calls for an interview. Funny how 30 seconds can change a person’s outlook.
Julia Child is now teaching cooking with her two friends. After a particular dish is finished, she tells the student, “It’s perfect. And even if it’s not, don’t apologize. No excuses, no explanations.”
I love how Julia Child met her cookbook collaborators through a mutual contact at a party. It wasn’t an appointment or an interview. It was being in the right place and the right time with the right dream and being open to the possibilities. Sometimes I’m so focused on getting WHAT I want, that I don’t realize HOW to get it. I pass opportunities without realizing they’re there.
Both Julie and Julia have their challenges. Paul’s career transplants the Childs often. He’s accused of being a spy. Julie’s dinner date/interview cancels due to inclement weather, leading to a huge fight with her husband, and his subsequent leaving. (Don’t worry. He returns.)
They keep at it. All of them. Even with their doubts and frustrations, they keep at it. Paul and Eric work hard. Julia continues to work on the cookbook with her friends. Julie continues to blog. They don’t allow life to distract them from what they know they must accomplish.
Through trials and fails, false leads and solid hopes, both Julie and Julia begin to be Julie and Julia. The cookbook is published. The blog garners national news.
It’s heartbreaking when Julie learns that a now-older Julia didn’t take her blog seriously. Especially because it was so close to the end of the Project. After almost a year of hard work, failures conquered, and now, faced with the biggest rejection yet, Julie still cooked and wrote. She didn’t even let her role model sway her from success. It just changed her idea of what her personal success was.
In the end, it wasn’t meeting her mentor. It wasn’t earning more money. It was doing what she was born to do: be a writer.
Thank you, Julia Child, for inspiring Julie Powell. Thank you, Family, Friends, and readers, for seeing a little bit of both of them in me. You all inspire me.