Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

But I Couldn’t Look, Having Read The Book

Posted by Phoenix Woman on August 25, 2009

The general take on the film Julie and Julia is that the parts with the effervescent Julia Child (Meryl Streep) in postwar Paris are infinitely better than the parts with the modern-day whiny Julie Powell (Amy Adams). I suspected that would be the case, having read Julie Powell’s book, which lent its name to the film. I was trying to pin down what irritated me — and pretty much everyone else — so much about Powell’s character especially as compared to that of Julia Child, and I think Laura Shapiro’s review of the film for Gourmet magazine finds it:

Meryl Streep’s deep, detailed evocation of Julia in the new Nora Ephron film, Julie & Julia, has the power of the original to win every heart in the crowd. As you might expect, she inhabits Julia beautifully—the size, the voice, the physical mannerisms—but to me it’s even more impressive that she gives an account of Julia’s character very much in tune with Julia’s own sense of herself. “I am continually trying to keep ‘ME’ out of as much of my relations with people as possible, and transfer a full interest to you/them, which automatically…makes me a more lovable person to them, and them to me,” Julia wrote to Paul in 1946, shortly before they were married—quite a good description of what it was like to have an ego that expressed itself most pleasurably in generosity.


Streep captures that vitality, and she also captures the dignity and civility that accompanied it. Julia was entirely modest beneath her buoyant good humor; and it’s clear in every inch of Streep’s personification that this woman is never going to carry on like a me-me-me celebrity, no matter how famous she gets.

In short, I sat there in the movie theater beaming like a lunatic during approximately half the film. The other half is a different story—literally. Ephron based her film on two books about Julia that have nothing whatever in common, starting with their treatment of Julia. One is Julia’s own memoir, My Life in France, which she wrote with her great-nephew Alex Prud’homme. This describes the years in which she discovered Paris, food, and her life’s work, ultimately producing Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The second is Julie Powell’s book Julie & Julia, which describes the year Powell (played in the film by Amy Adams) lived in Queens, N.Y., and discovered her true self by making every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, blogging as she went. There’s no question that Powell had a great idea for a blog. What she didn’t have was anything interesting to say about cooking her way through Mastering. Her writing is hollow, narcissistic, and unforgivably lazy—qualities so foreign to Julia that it’s not at all surprising that she once said she couldn’t abide Powell’s work.

Yup, yup and yup.

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