Friday, January 14, 2011

Julie and Julia Revisited

I loved this movie. All three of us did. So of course we watched when it was on last night. It was like ordering delicious dish you've had before. Just as tasty, although missing the delight of discovery.

On second viewing, I was struck by the stark contrasts between Julie and Julia, contrasts that illustrate how society has changed in the last 60 years. Julia's ambition is to cook and write. Her goal is to excel, to impart the knowledge she has acquired and to please those who eat her food. A $250 advance excites her. Simply holding the finished book in her hands is a moment of profound happiness and satisfaction. She laughs at the idea of being on TV.

Julie clearly has a passion for food, but her goal from the start is "success," which in today's America means fame and money. Julia Child's cookbook is a vessel into which she pours all her dreams, ambitions and anxieties. Her project is less an end in and of itself than a means for self-expression, self-fulfillment and -- I don't want to be too harsh, but let's be honest -- self-aggrandizement. In spite of her insecurities and meltdowns, she believes she's special. If her husband told her she should be on TV, she would dismiss it, but more in the manner of "Deep down, I agree, so please telling me over and over."

Her husband observes that blogging is all about her, her, her and laments how the project has come to consume and define their lives. Paul, by contrast, takes pleasure and pride in her wife's commitment to excellence -- an excellence that is a form of love he partakes of every day.

The movie glosses over these differences, wanting to portray both women on parallel journeys of self discovery. But Julia and Julie are actually on different paths. Julia's goal is to master an art. Julie's is to be famous.

I'm being a little unfair. Both women are products of their times. I still think this is a great movie, and I admire Julie for cooking all the recipes in "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." But the film also unwittingly highlights how our society has gone from extolling mastery of a subject, skill or craft to extolling the use of such things to acquire fame and money.


  1. While I found Julia the more interesting character, I don't agree that Julie's goal was to be famous. She set out to prove something to herself: that she could start and complete a project. Her mother's phone calls were rather telling. Julie had been feeling pretty bad about herself. The cookbook and the blog were the project she chose to improve her own self-esteem. I agree, of course, that it really got in the way of her marriage, but she had become so caught up in this project that it was inevitable.

  2. Points well taken. Still, she clearly got a thundering rush off the New York Times article and subsequent attention. At least as the movie portrayed it, her giddiness over sudden fame seemed to overwhelm her desire to cook.