What We Can Learn from Julie & Julia

Julie & Julia is one of those films that entertains during the watching and pokes at you afterward. It is an adaptation of two memoirs, one by Julia Child and the other by Julie Powell, who took a year to recreate each recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Meryl Streep plays Julia Child and does so in the masterful way that only Meryl Streep can do. She thoroughly conveys Child’s fascination with French cuisine. Who would have thought that Child did not know how to cook before she landed in France with her new husband?

Amy Adams is charming as Julie Powell. Some critics thought Adams role and acting were more shallow than Streep’s, but I thought the juxtaposition was perfect. Powell was an unsuccessful writer who needed a purpose and began blogging about her Julia Child re-creations; Child was newly married, living in France, and also needing a purpose. Powell was already a good cook when she started her marathon de cuisine. Child had no clue about cooking but loved to eat. When she discovered Le Cordon Bleu, her goals were to be better than the other mostly male chefs and to graduate. We are treated to a humorous scene where, after failing miserably in the onion chopping lesson, she has  chopped her way through a mountain of onions piled on her kitchen counter and neither she nor her husband are able to talk through their onion induced tears.

Besides needing purpose, they both had persistence, belief in what they were doing, and understandable doubts when events caused their persistence and belief to fade. They persevered, but only through hard work, determination and supportive friends.

Julie & Julia is a rich film that offers many opportunities for discussing the human condition, the gift of determination, and what it means to be a supportive friend, spouse, or parent. The spouses supported their wives’ cuisine efforts by eating what they cooked, listening to their goals and doubts, and being part of the process such as when Powell and her husband both watched episodes of Julia Child’s cooking show. Powell’s husband wasn’t pretending to find Julia Child interesting — he and Julie genuinely shared the moments. Another time, Powell’s husband gave her pearls, just like the ones Julia Child wore. I am sure the other women in the theater were thinking,  “That is sooooo thoughtful!” Being human, however, both husbands had moments where they simply ran out of empathy for the drama and neediness of their wives’ projects.

In one of the scenes, Powell is devastated to hear that Julia Child didn’t think much of her project or her goal. Powell says to her husband, “Do you think it’s because I use the word “fuck?” (Or something to that effect.) He responds, “Maybe.” Well, I found her blog and her last entry was about Julia Child’s death. Sure enough, there all by itself was a one sentence paragraph, —  “So why am I so fucking sad?” The Julie/Julia Project It may seem  inappropriate for a blog about spirituality to have an infamous four-letter word like f***, but spirituality is about our journeys, using our language, and heck, sometimes one word says it all. In the beginning of the film where Julia Child experiences her first French meal, she sensually sniffs the sauteed fish and mutters, “Butter.” We viewers knew right away that she had found a land of heavenly cuisine, and we could relate to experiencing that one image, that one aroma, or one word that says it all.

Go see Julie & Julia. You’ll be delighted by the movie and have much to think about later.

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About Patti Albaugh

I grew up in Mount Vernon, Ohio, and graduated from Mount Vernon High School in 1965. I have a Bachelor's Degree from Mount Vernon Nazarene University and a Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. I am an Emeritus Professor at Otterbein University. In addition to writing creative nonfiction and fiction, I like genealogy, gardening, travel and Mah Jjong. I currently live in Tucson, Arizona, with my dog Tonto. I am the proud parent of children Justin and Amy and granddaughters Katherine and Zoe.
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