My friend and fellow Catholic Sarah has a great blog dedicated to the art of cooking called “Simply Scrumptious by Sarah.” I cannot emphasize the word “art” enough, and it is fitting given today’s review of Julie & Julia (2009). Not to get ahead of myself, but the basic premise of the movie is frustrated worker Julie Powell (Amy Adams) blogging about making every recipe in Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) culinary tour de France, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (1961). There, again, is that word. I wish I could use that to refer to my cooking. As I type, I have a poor little Cornish hen roasting in the oven. The extent of my preparation skills being to add spices and following heating instructions. I hope Sarah is not shaking her head at this point in the review. As with my brief recitation of Julie & Julia’s plot, there is more to cooking than my pitiful attempts.
Based on what I have already said about Julie & Julia, you might expect that it focuses on Julie, the frustrated worker who turns to her cooking idol Julia Childs for comfort and guidance. Of course, she can only do so with re-runs of the famous chef’s several television shows, and the parody of her that Dan Aykroyd did of her on Saturday Night Live in 1978. However, this does not explain the inspiration for either these programs or the aforementioned book. For that, we go to the real beginning of our film, with Julia and her husband Paul Child (Stanley Tucci). It is 1949 and they are stopping for a meal in Paris. Julia is delightedly drinking in her surroundings. They are in France because Paul has been stationed there by the United States State Department. He has his job, and now it is time for her to find something to do. Get ready for some jumping around because the movie splits eras between then and 2002. This is when we get to meet Julie, laboring for the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. She has the unenviable task of taking phone calls about the development of the site of the destroyed World Trade Center. It is also a new beginning of sorts for her as her and her husband, Eric Powell (Chris Messina), have moved into a new apartment. Despite Eric’s enthusiasm, Julie feels their apartment is not the greatest. Her friends are also making her feel like her life is slightly unfulfilled. This is when she turns to Julia. The film makes it clear that this is perhaps not the most likely of outcomes. Julia tries a few different diversions before settling on cooking. To do so, she enrolls in Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. She is the only woman in her class, and she is an American. Julia Childs, though, is not a woman with whom to be trifled. The further along she matriculates, the more she comes to love the culinary arts. She also has a willing supporter in Paul. Thus, her next ambition becomes to publish the book for which she became known. This is part of the inspiration for Julie, but her husband challenges her because she has a reputation for not finishing what she starts. What she is about to start is a blog where she chronicles making all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, doing a different one each day. It gives her a welcome distraction from the difficulties of her job, while also allowing her to indulge in her love of cooking. It goes well for her, and Eric seemingly reaps the benefit of the excellent meals that come with her new found hobby. Problems begin occurring when she notices that her scribblings on the internet have begun to garner a following. As such, keeping up with the blog becomes more of an obsession, and Eric accuses her of putting it before their marriage. Back in the 1950s, things are also not going smoothly for Julia. The company that was going to publish her book pulled out at the last moment, citing the length of the book as being not interesting to busy American mothers. This, along with Paul being transferred away from Paris, are all blows for Julia. Julie has one, too, when after a blunder in preparing one of her idol’s favorite dishes, she ends up burning it. Her reaction to this setback causes Eric to regret the whole project, and he leaves. As happens in both periods, the perseverance of our two main characters saves the day. With Julia, after her and Paul settle for good back in the United States after a few stops in other stations around the world, a new publisher steps in to publish her book. This is the move that makes her career, and she goes on to make all the television appearances that made her a household name. As for Julie, she takes to her blog to talk about what transpired with Eric. Doing so brings her a supportive call from her mother, and soon Eric returns. This is not the only good news. Her blog has come to the attention of The New York Times, who have featured it in the paper. This news is tempered by the revelation that the still living Julia Childs is not a fan of Julie Powell’s blog. Still, the two cooks in their respective periods in which they appear are comforted by their husbands, and the movie closes with Julie visiting Julia’s replica house at the Smithsonian.
I have to confess that at the end of Julie & Julia when it is revealed that Julia did not care for Julie’s efforts, I was a little disappointed. Still, nothing seems to faze either of these women for long, as they each went to go on to bigger things despite their challenges. I wish that more Catholics, and Christians in general, could demonstrate the same sticktoitiveness. Life is going to throw you curveballs. Faith is easy when everything is going your way. Before going further, I should add that there is nothing wrong with good times. They are a grace that should be appreciated. The bad times are a grace, too. One thing that my spiritual director said to me recently is that he has been reflecting on the way everything works together for God’s greater glory. I understand this is harder to see when you are down. Julia and Julie had their goals, and they were determined to reach them. It is difficult for them to continue to believe in them when you face rejection, be it publishing companies or husbands. There were times when I, too, felt like I would never receive my Ph.D. A Biblical way of looking at this is how Jesus describes the gate into Heaven being narrow, and how few will pass through it. When faced with expediency, people more often choose what is easiest rather than the decision that will help you in the long run, like getting to Heaven, getting a book out, or remaining dedicated to a blog. I pray that you can find a path not only to what you want to accomplish, but to what God wants of you.
It was Sarah that suggested that I review Julie & Julia. After talking about remaining focused on your goals, I feel somewhat silly for admitting that this is not exactly how we timed the release of this review. Yet, she has been an inspiration for me because she has been publishing her cooking blog even longer than I have been doing The Legionnaire. My hope is to one day have the same kind of following as her or Julie. To achieve Julia status would be nice, too, though I will continue to publish in spite of any challenges.