By now, most of you have seen Julie and Julia, which intertwines the memoir of Julia Child, the legendary chef, and the blog of Julie Powell, the New York City housewife who discovers herself by working her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Child’s story dovetails with Jenny in An Education: Both women were caught on the threshold of feminism, fighting sexism to get what they want from life. Where Jenny learns that her Oxford education might actually get her out of the schoolhouse, Child forges her way through the publishing world to create a true work of art, not a condescending “for women” how-to guide for providing warm meals to their man.
Enter Julie Powell, the quintessential modern, urban middle class woman that’s too busy to cook, but wants more than Hot Pockets out of life. The first fifty pages of the published version of her blog chronicle Julie’s adventures sneak-reading her parents’ copy of The Joy of Sex, by-the-fireplace dreams of cozy Christmases with Jason Bateman, arguments with her mom, and lots of booze. In other words, she’s an NYC version of Bridget Jones.
Without the charm and wit. Her blog, truth be told, is tedious. Check out Day 2, Quiche Lorraine. Julie is sweating through an August evening in her small Brooklyn apartment kitchen, kneading pastry while feeding her snake and talking to her landlord while the husband plays Free Cell. The quiche? “It’s pretty goddamned good.” The green beans? “The green beans taste like green beans, only with butter.”
If you can’t already tell, Julie Powell is nothing like “Julie Powell.” It took me three blog posts to realize that Amy Adams is fatally miscast. She’s way too…likable. Julie Powell is closer to January Jones in Betty Draper mode, if Betty Draper lost all her money and moved to Brooklyn after marrying Greg Focker.
This is the problem with Julie and Julia. Because Nora Ephron is too afraid to paint “Julie Powell” as a messy, neurotic, profane, emotional wreck—like she is in her blog—the plot falls apart. Julie’s fussiness isn’t nearly enough to drive her husband away without him looking like a total jerk. The culmination of this miscalculation comes near the end of the film, when Julie finds out that Julia Child hates her blog.
The viewer thinks, wow, Julia Child is a real bitch. I mean, look at Amy Adams and her cute little neurotic cooking exercise that taught her about love, life, and laughter! It doesn’t make any sense.
Until you read the real Julie Powell’s blog. In fact, in her last post, Julie writes, “I never met Julia Child. I have no particular reason to think she’d even have liked me if I had.” Even Julie Powell realizes how unlikeable Julie Powell can be. This could have been a great movie.
Julia Child, in fact, didn’t like Julie Powell’s blog. Child said she wrote the book for “servantless cooks”—a mission that’s more than a touch disconnected from real homemakers, even back in the 50’s and 60’s. Generations later, Julia Child’s sentiment seems even less understanding of her audience. Still, Child’s gift was teaching, even if she didn’t know her students. If anything, Julia Child seems to have written her book for “Julie Powell,” as if imagining Amy Adams fussing over suffles. Child’s real audience is the overworked, profane, stressed, neurotic government bureaucrat: The one who’s so stressed that she might practically benefit from Child’s can-do explanations. Because Nora Ephron didn’t figure that out, she insults Julia Child at the end of a movie that’s supposed to glorify her.