Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Julie and Julia -- finishing and obsessing

Director: Nora Ephron, 2009.

What is it we do, or try to do, every day? Eat food! Even Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us today our daily bread" (Matt. 6:11). In America, many of us look forward to eating three meals each day. Though this aspect of life is oh-so normal and boring, Hollywood and independent film-makers make movies about food. Come to think of it, there are actually some pretty good ones: Bella, Ratatouille, and Chocolat are all in English. Perhaps the best two food films are foreign: Like Water for Chocolate and (my favorite) Babette's Feast. (Which movies would you add to this list?)

Julie and Julia is another one to add to this collection. A movie about food, it is also a movie about blogging. Blogs have appeared in movies before. Rachel McAdams plays a D.C. reporter who posts her stories to the web in State of Play. But this is the first film that is actually based on a blog! Real-life blogger Julie Powell created "The Julie/Julia Project" and turned this into her memoir. Nora Ephron based her movie of the same name on this book and also on Julia Child's biography, written by Alex Prud'Homme, "My Life in France."

We meet Julie (Amy Adams) working at a government agency in New York in 2002. Answering the phones and dealing with surviving relatives of those lost in the twin towers tragedy, her career is on-hold going nowhere. Compared to her friends who are successful VPs and real estate brokers, she is a failure. A writer with an unpublished novel, she is stuck in a job that heaps depressing woes upon her all day long. What a life! What she really enjoys is writing and eating.

Juxtaposed against Julie is Julia Child (Meryl Streep), the legend of French cooking. We see her moving to Paris in the 50s, with her diplomat husband Paul (Stanley Tucci, Kit Kittredge). While he is away at work, she tries hat-making and bridge to stifle the boredom. But to no avail.
Over a delicious dinner in a Parisian restaurant, Paul asks her, "What is it you really like to do?" Julia gives him a simple, single word answer, accompanied by a characteristic laugh, "Eat!" And so she enrolls in cordon bleu cooking classes.

Both Julie and Julia find themselves bored and lacking fulfillment. Both know what they really want to do: write and cook. Both have supportive husbands. But it will take perseverance from both to overcome the obstacles they face to achieve success.

When Julie comes up with the spur-of-the-moment idea to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's epic cook book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," in one year, it is her husband Eric (Chris Messina) who suggests she blog about it. After all, she wants to be a writer. But it is her mother who is her doubter. She reminds Julie that she has never finished anything in her life.

Finishing things. How easy it is to start something: a new project, a new book, a new hobby. We even make resolutions each new year. But it doesn't take long for the enthusiasm to fade once the obstacles turn up. The dazzle disappears into the daily grind. Finishing is hard. It takes determination. It takes perseverance. Having supporters, friends and relatives, around to encourage us when we get down is important, if not critical. Keeping our eyes on the prize is essential (Phil. 3:14). We get measured and remembered by the things we finish.

One of the things that makes Julie and Julia such an enjoyable dish is the acting. Meryl Streep is phenomenal as Child. With rounded shoulders and a fluted voice this 5'6" actress seems to grow in stature to inhabit the role of a 6' culinary giant. With 15 academy award nominations and two wins in her resume, she is sure to add one more for this performance. Adams holds her own as Julie. But we don't know Julie Powell, and we do know Julia. The one disappointment is that Streep and Adams never appear on screen in a scene together. The fabulous sparks they created working together in Doubt (2008) is missing here because of this.

As Julie's cooking project advances, she begins to gain readers. These followers leave comments on her blog and slowly Julie becomes obsessed with this cooking/blog project. As it takes over her life, she suffers meltdowns and marriage problems. For a moment, she has lost her perspective.

Projects and obsessions can so easily take over our lives. What starts out as a positive can become an impediment. This is true especially if we are having trouble finishing things. We crank up the persistence and get so engrossed in our determination to make it all the way to the end, we forget that there are other aspects of life to consider. Balance is needed.

As a blog writer myself I can appreciate the desire to publish another post. But when there is homework help needed for high school kids or a romantic evening with my wife, blogs should take a back-seat. Life must go on. It will not be put on hold while we complete our pet projects.

Speaking of romance, Ephron weaves some romance in along the way. This is not surprising from the rom-com director of Sleepless in Seattle. Though a head shorter than his wife, Paul Child is clearly head over heels in love with Julia. Her says to her words that Eric echoes almost half a century later to Julie: "You are the butter to my bread, you are the breath to my life." It is a pleasure to see a middle-aged couple so in love without resorting to sex and nudity.

When we find our calling, our passion, and when we are supported by a loving spouse, we have achieved success even if we don't finish that project. Sometimes it is enough to find that balance. Our blog may never become a famous book turned into a film. And that's OK.

Copyright ©2010, Martin Baggs

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