I should preface this by saying that I was fortunate enough to have met Julia Child and her sister, Dorothy Cousins, when I was still a student at the California Culinary Academy. This was at the beginning of the food revolution in California, and the school was hosting a benefit. The speaker list included the usual culinary stars of those days. I'm not going to list the speakers because, with a couple of important exceptions, the tone of the evening was all pretty damn snooty and snotty and elitist, and it was one of those "what in the hell am I doing in this profession" moments.
Julia and her sister were the last to arrive. The movie does a great job of emphasizing how physically imposing they were, but it can't possibly do them justice. I'm fairly tall for a woman, and yet when they entered the room, side by side, there was a little hush. Because they weren't so much as imposing as just THERE. They were large women, but not in the sense of present-day jargon. Tall and healthy, they both looked like they could probably break the neck of a five-hundred pound steer should the occasion warrant it.
And the one thing that the movie did capture so well was the connection between the two of them. Dorothy was a little taller, and she'd lean over to talk to Julia, and Julia would have this intent look on her face as she tried to hear her sister over the din of voices, and there was NO sense of this celebrity and her sister. No sense that Julia was forcing her sister down everyone's throats. It was just McWilliams girls out for the night.
I asked her to autograph a cookbook for my mother, and it wasn't whipping out the pen and a quick scrawl. She ASKED about my mother and when she'd signed the book (Julia Child and Company, by the way), she said to me, "Aren't you sweet? I do hope she likes the book." It wasn't a staged scenario. I came away from that encounter thinking, "Oh, she's tall, and, oh, thank you for saying that I'm sweet, and I know my mother will love the book."
Again, I'm not going to name names here, but the high point of the evening was when another speaker got on his/her high horse about some sort of nonsense that doesn't bear repeating; basically, people were jockeying for position and fetishizing food as a way to get there. The speakers were sitting in rocking chairs, and by the end of this insufferable speech Julia was rocking so violently that I half expected it to fly off the dais. In the nicest way possible she put this person in his/her place and basically said, oh, please. It's just food and we should enjoy it, but it's not a religion. She brought the entire tone of the evening back to earth. Which was, I think, her true gift. Yes, she could cook and had a delightful personality that television showcased so well, but in the end, she was someone who enjoyed a damn good meal with a decent glass of wine, surrounded by friends and/or family. Which is precisely why I went into cooking.
And that's why the Julie part of the move fails so miserably, and I don't even think that the director got it, and certainly the writer, Julie Powell, didn't get it. Because the cooking was never about Julia Child tooting her own horn. She loved food because food was lovable. She understood it and she undoubtedly had a phenomenal gift for it. But what the movie so lovingly portrayed was that her marriage and her relationships with people were the key, with food being an important satellite. During the numerous scenes when they are having dinner parties or eating in restaurants, the movie doesn't focus on people loving Julia Child's cooking. The movie focuses on Julia Child and her wonderful husband and their special relationship and the fact she's a funny, intelligent woman. And a damn good cook.
Cut to modern-day Julie portions of the film: the movie (and I imagine the blog) focuses on Julie and how SHE'S becoming a good cook and how her husband and everyone else are satellites. I don't know how faithful this is to the blog, but I will say from the movie that Julie Powell has a bunch of really ugly, unhappy, and obnoxious friends. I assume that this is what propels her into the kitchen in the first place, but the repeated cutting back and forth between a woman with a hell of a lot of self-respect to a woman who has none and who basically embraces her "bitch" cannot help but come off as, well, bitchy and self-serving. The modern-day dinner parties are all about the food. How good this is. It's great. Man, I love this. They might as well be at SEPARATE tables because there is no camaraderie between any of these people. I disliked them. I didn't see Julie's accomplishments as anything but a leap-frog off of Julia Child's accomplishments. Because it was always about the food and Julie Powell saying, "SEE! SEE! ME! ME! I MADE THIS!"
Which, having watched her television shows and owning every single one of her books, Julia Child never said.