Saturday, September 26, 2009

Julie, Julia and Everyone Else

Last night we finally saw Julie & Julia, the film version of the book about the blog about the cook. It was really good, surprisingly cheerful. I kept waiting for the crises, but they were so homey, so everyday, so manageable that they never raised my stress level. Julie & Julia wasn't exhilarating; it was merely joyful.

Interestingly, while everyone has been telling us not to see it hungry, the food was a secondary factor for us. My wife had just come home from a conference about marriage counseling (she's a therapist), so she was struck mostly by the overwhelmingly positive marital dynamics in both couples. I, on the other hand, am a blogger who's written on narcissism, and I found myself concentrating mostly on how Julie (and Julia, for that matter) processed and shared their experiences.

The film takes place early in the life of blogging as a practice; frustrated writer and amateur cook Julie decides to cook her way through Julia Child's cookbook and blog her way through the experience. Her first problem is explaining to her mother what in the world she's doing, and why it's worth doing. Meanwhile she frets over, first, whether anyone is reading what she's writing, and later, how to make sense of her connection to an ever-growing pool of readers. She celebrates benchmark moments in numbers of comments, she processes the strange of experience of having her blog ranked on Salon.com, she fantasizes and strategizes over the media's interest in her unique project. She wrestles her way through the temptations and frustrations of self-centeredness and, we're left to presume and hope, out the other side.

Julia has a similar experience. Seeking a way of finding fulfillment as an expatriate wife and non-mother in post-WWII, pre-feminism France, she meanders through hobbies till she finds her sweet spot in the kitchen. She then embarks on a vision for reviving the art of cooking in American households by partnering with two French chefs on a cookbook, at which point she launches a frustrating but ultimately successful campaign to get published.

The understated story in the film is the role of direct personal friendships. Julia and her husband quickly find a core community in France and share their stories and their struggles openly. Julie's project is launched at a dinner table with friends who will later return to the table to celebrate her thirtieth birthday and the completion of the challenge. Both women are, for the purposes of the film, the center of these communities' world--they and their husbands always sit at the head and the foot of the table, their concerns are exclusively the concerns of the supporting characters--but it's easy to extrapolate from this portrayed narcissism to imagining these friends sharing all kinds of life together--knowing each others' interests and anxieties, passing each other potatoes, all those sorts of everyday things. Both women had relationships with faceless, faraway people, but it was these flesh-and-blood relationships that kept them grounded and propelled them forward.

Even the relationship of Julia to Julie, one that apparently never became direct either through correspondence or introduction, is put in proper context by the real-time relationships each has to her husband and friends. Julia may fantasize about the far-off American woman who will put her recipes to use, but she cooks for the people she sees every day. Julie may "talk" to Julia as she cooks, but she knows and takes comfort in the fact that while the Julia in her head will never take on flesh and sit down at table with her, she has real relationships with people she can reach out and touch.

So as much as Julie & Julia is about food and blogging, it's also about community--particularly community in circumstances that make community difficult. In that respect, Julie and Julia are just like everyone else.

2 comments:

E. Peevie said...

Great review! Interesting perspective on narcissism and self-interest. The moment when Julie's husband points out her self-centeredness and walks out was very poignant to me. Yes, as you said, she is just like me.

Jennwith2ns said...

Thanks for this review . . . I don't think I felt as positively about the movie when I saw it (although like your wife, I was impressed with the portrayal of the marriages), but I think I like it better now . . . ;)