August 5, 2009

On "Julie & Julia" and Being a Food Blogger

You've probably heard that Nora Ephron's new movie Julie & Julia comes out this Friday. It's the story of two women: the famed chef Julia Child, who learns to cook at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris in her mid-thirties & works for years on her tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking, & Julie Powell, who cooks all of Child's recipes in a year. The plot is based on their books: Child's My Life in France & Powell's blog-turned-book Julie & Julia. While these are really two separate stories (the two women never met), Ephron has juxtaposed them well, switching back and forth between the two women's lives to show their similarities.

Meryl Streep is brilliant as Julia Child, without mocking satire. My favorite scene is when Child has her first meal in Paris; she is emotionally overwhelmed with the first bite of sole meunière, a dish that seems so delicious that Child cannot express her satisfaction in words. It's a moving scene that nearly brought me to tears. Throughout the film, Streep perfectly portrays Child's passion for food, for love, and for life. It's truly inspiring.

Valentine's Day card from the real Julia & Paul Child.

The movie does a good job highlighting their passionate marriage.

As a foodie, I also loved the food in the film; it really is another of the stars. And I loved watching the actors eat. Chris Messina, who plays Powell's husband, eats with such gusto that I've actually made one of the dishes he so eagerly consumes (the tomato bruschetta). Don't go to the theater hungry, because this movie will be 2 hours of torture. Do go home and make one of Child's recipe, particularly the boeuf bourguignon (you won't regret it).

Powell's husband Eric loves her cooking & is patiently supportive, at least in the film. (Anyone know if they are still married? It's hard to tell.)

On the other hand, I was disappointed in how Julie Powell is portrayed. I couldn't put my finger on it at first. So, when I met Powell in LA last month, I asked her how she felt about the changes they made to her story & character. She reminded me that Julie & Julia is a Nora Ephron romantic comedy and that her character is a "sweetened version" of herself. "It's rated PG-13," she said. "You get one fuck." And that was it! Powell is pretty edgy & dysfunctional in her book (which is one of the reasons I liked it); she's much tamer on screen. She didn’t like that her character says the phrase “the F-word” because in real life she would never have said that; she would just say "fuck" (and she does so in the book often). She also didn’t like that her character shopped at Dean & DeLuca, another thing she would never do. (She calls the store “Grocery of the Antichrist” on her original blog.) Otherwise, she seemed very happy with the movie. (Read Powell's recent article about her reactions to the film.)

One thing that bothered me about the changes to Powell's story is her reason for blogging. As I recall from reading the book, she is frustrated with her job (and life in general) and gets away to visit her parents in Texas. While there, she starts thumbing through her mother's old copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and realizes it's just the thing her soul needs. Before she starts cooking, her husband suggests she blog about it.

In the film, however, she decides to start a blog because her pretentious friend has one that is being made into a Showtime series. "I could write a blog. I have thoughts," Powell whines to her husband, who then suggests she write about cooking. "I'm not a real cook, not like Julia Child," she replies. It's then she comes up with the idea for cooking all of Child's 524 recipes in 365 days. I think that change makes Powell seem less than genuine and quite pretentious herself, like she is doing the project merely to get famous (although, if she was doing it for that reason then kudos to her for succeeding!). In the book, she seems to be doing it for more spiritual reasons (as she is even surprised that anyone is reading her blog in the first place).

There has been a lot of recent press about food bloggers hating Powell. I, for one, do NOT hate her. I loved her book (it inspired me to start cooking more & blogging about it), and I was absolutely thrilled to meet her (I really liked her). I honestly think that most of the hate comes from jealousy; she is, after all, the first to have her blog made into a book & a movie. I mean, most of us would love to have our blogs turned into books that are then made into movies starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. Who wouldn't? There is really no reason to hate Powell for what she did; her project was ambitious & creative, and her writing is witty & entertaining. I think some people are just upset that they didn't think of mastering the art of French cooking first.

Some of the negative reactions to Powell stems from a comment she made in May when she said: "I don’t consider myself a food blogger. I feel deeply ambivalent about the whole thing. Food bloggers can be clannish, slightly evil people sometimes, which is OK I guess. I can be clannish and slightly evil too."

A couple of the food bloggers at the LA event were highly offended by that comment and even asked her about it. Powell responded by saying that she doesn't consider herself a food blogger because she doesn't blog for a living. She had that one blog (started in 2002), which is not really about the food (she doesn't post recipes or photos) but is more about her life, her job, her relationship, and trying to find her passion. She was quick to compliment those who have made a career out of food blogging. As a food blogger myself, I am not at all offended by her comment. In fact, I tend to agree with her. EVERYONE can be clannish & slightly evil sometimes...bloggers of any kind are not excluded. Anyone who says they aren't and never have been are simply lying. And I respect and like her more for admitting she can be, too.

Offense was taken to the fact that Powell doesn't define herself as a blogger. Who cares how she defines herself! If you've read her book, the entire book, you'd know that she wanted to be an author even before she started blogging. And, I'll tell you, if I ever have a book published and it becomes my career, I'll then call myself an author and no longer a blogger.

One comment made about the difference between a "blogger" and an "author" is that bloggers aren't taken seriously as writers. For the most part, I think that's true...some people don't consider bloggers to be serious writers, even though many bloggers are fabulous writers. But blogging alone does not make one a writer. For example, I wouldn't consider every teenager who has a blog to be a writer, nor would I necessarily consider someone who merely has a blog to be a "blogger." In fact, I don't really consider myself to be a writer, even though I recently wrote a magazine article. I am, for now, a blogger...because it's what I do most regularly. But, I'm also a teacher, and I consider myself to be a cook (not a chef, of course). I don't really care how Julie Powell (or anyone else for that matter) defines herself.

Nevertheless, whether or not you like Julie Powell, this movie is entertaining and worth seeing...even if you're not a foodie or a Julia Child fan (though, her life is really interesting).

Of course, since I'm an English teacher, I have to recommend that you read the books before (or after) seeing the film, since Ephron has changed some things and left out other details. Also, check out Powell's next novel, Cleaving, which comes out in December.


TeaLady said...

What a great 'article'. I consider many of bloggers I come across writers. So many of them write so very well (present blog is definitely a role model) and many of them have inspired me to be a better blogger/writer. I enjoyed the book and found the blog and read it too.

Thanks so much for this. And for all your recipes/'articles' etc. It is bloggers like you that make this constantly dynamic and fun.

Lisa said...

Interesting post Kelly! I really enjoyed the book too. I'm surprised the movie changed her inspiration for starting the blog- that seems like a significant point to me.

Julie Powell said...

Hey, Kelly, thanks for this. You're fantastic.

Julie Powell said...

Hey, Kelly, thanks for this. You're fantastic.

Julie Powell said...

I keep trying to comment on this and failing - the internet seems to be broken today. Anyway, what I keep meaning to say is thanks, Kelly, for this. You're fantastic.

Kristen said...

What a great reciew! I can't wait to see the movie.

Heidi from Savory Tv said...

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts! I followed you over here from your comment on the "prissy food blogger" post (as Gawker named it!).

I think a love for all things culinary and appreciate for food is a beautiful thing, and that anyone fully has the right to write, blog, talk about their love for it. We can visit art museums and appreciate art without being art historians or museum curators.

I was sitting next to a well know journalist at the best new chefs dinner in Aspen, and we were discussing the pretentiousness of a few of the attendees (actually most of them were amazingly warm and cordial, just a few had a god complex), and she said "it's f*cking food people, get over yourselves!". I think of that often.

Cheers and thank you again!

Leisa Hammett said...

Thanks for "getting it" as a food blogger. I was disappointed to read so many disparaging comments. Pfff!Grow up, I say. Wash the green off your face and BE HAPPY for someone else, people! Geez!

Megan said...

To answer your question re:if Julie Powell is still married, according to this recent NY Times article about a new wave of young butchers, it appears that she is not:

"Julie Powell — the Julie who inspired the upcoming film “Julie & Julia” — sought them out before they started charging. Her affair with a good friend had left her marriage in shambles, and she was looking for a way to repair her broken heart.

“Standing at the table all day breaking down chuck shoulder just focuses your mind,” she said. “For eight hours a day I am not thinking about any of the mess in life.”

The resulting book, “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession,” is set to come out in December."

Natalie Sztern said...

I absolutely find bloggers a snobbish clique of people who have very little time for those not blogging. I say who cares, I read them for the fun and the facts...and since I have retired three weeks ago, moved and am starting with an empty nest...I have decided to begin a blog too.

As a reader and commenter of a gazillion blogs I am finally ready to do one too with a purpose to it.

Only one thing I am worried about and that is I find just reading blogs is a full time job so how about giving hints on where you or your fellow bloggers find the time to blog and have a life outside the kitchen? plllleeeaasssseee....

Tania said...

I am looking forward to seeing the movie next week. I was lucky enough to have a friend send me the book (which I devoured in three nights - quite an accomplishment with two little ones!) and am glad that I read it before seeing the movie. I love reading your blog and recipes.....makes me want to be a "better blogger!"

Thanks for the honest review!

Take care,

Katrina said...

Thank you for this great post. I saw the movie last week. Loved it. Have read up on Julie a bit, LOVE Julia. Have no reason to judge Julie or dislike her. What a wonderful treat that you got to go to the premiere and meet her. Great writing, you Foodie! ;)

AmyRuth said...

Kelly, I really enjoyed reading your well written article about Julie. I learned something about her and now I think I will read her book. Even after seeing the movie now twice I just didn't feel compelled to do so until you showed a different dimension of her personality. Of course I must cook the Boeuf Bourguignon along with the masses. That's just irresistible. Even in summer. Right? Thanks again for a great story. I love stories.