Julie and Julia chronicles the transformation of two women via cooking

I know I’m late to the party but I’d be remiss if I didn’t post about two true stories of life transformation — Julia Child and Julie Powell — celebrated on the big screen this summer.

Julie Powell was lost in a cubicle job when she decided to blog about making her way through Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, producing all 524 recipes in 365 days.

Then her blog got picked up for a book, and the book led to this summer’s movie, Julie and Julia.

I get weepy watching that trailer not because of Julie Powell’s obsessive mission, but because it’s so powerful to consider a time when a cultural force like Julia Child didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. What a relief! If Julia Child can have a midlife crisis wondering what her real calling is, there’s hope for all of us.

I recently stumbled onto Julie Powell’s new blog called “What Could Happen?” On it, she addresses her relationship with her hero, Julia Child:

A lot of people have been asking whether it’s true that Julia Child wasn’t a big fan of Julie Powell, and whether she and I really didn’t meet. Both of those things are true – Julia, I think, from what I gather, was less irritated than simply uninterested. Which, when I first found out, was of course devastating.

But the thing about Julia, to me, was that she was a real person – a great 6-foot-2 force of nature, with tremendous gifts, nearly limitless energy and generosity, firm opinions, and even a few flaws. That’s what I love about her – she inspired because she was a woman, not a saint. Not to say that her not loving my blog was a flaw.

I just mean that the fact that she might not for whatever reason adore me as much as I adore her has absolutely no bearing on what is wonderful about her. Throughout her life, Julia nurtured and encouraged and gave great help to chefs and writers both.

And she changed my life. No matter what she – or anyone else, for that matter – thought of the project. I know why I did what I did, and I am proud that I spent a year writing and cooking in tribute to one the most wonderful women I’ve ever not met.

That’s a powerful story for a totally different reason. What happens if your path collides with your hero — and she’s unimpressed? To remain dedicated to what you’re doing, and to retain your hero, is great inspiration. Because if you can remember why you aspire to be like someone even if she isn’t exactly boosting your self esteem, it sounds to me like Julie Powell got some pretty profound grounding from her year’s mission.

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Categories: food and drink

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4 replies

  1. MJ, it’s true Julie Powell likely didn’t earn enough on her first book to never work again, and after the success of her Julie & Julia, I’ve got to believe they backed up the armored truck to buy her next one. (I searched around for the terms of her contracts and couldn’t find dollar figures so anyone with details, I’d love to hear them.) So I don’t know that it’s a huge surprise that she’s written a follow up while her name is still fresh in our minds.

    Still, to Lara’s point, it’s pretty out there to write a book that says “I became a huge success and then my marriage fell apart while I had an affair.” I don’t know if it’s the path to reconciliation at home but it is bringing it real, as Lara likes to say.

  2. Of course Julie Powell would write another book — she got paid (I’m sure) a fortune to do so! More power to her, and I would do exactly the same, but to me that’s no more impressive than, say, Nicole Kidman making another movie after she earned a lot of rave reviews and money from a previous one. This is just what they do (along with slicing open dead cows).

    I like what Colleen quotes from Powell about Child’s reaction to her blog. From what I’ve read, Child was surprisingly ungracious about the whole thing. Really, you take issue with someone cooking EVERY recipe in the book that defined you? With someone becoming, under your guidance, the talented home chef you urged a generation of fans to become? And lauded you endlessly along the way? C’mon.

  3. Finally saw the movie this weekend (at the Cobble Hill Cinema… I think the only place it’s playing in NYC and it’s a 10 minute walk from the apartment) and it exceeded my expectations. After the movie we had to go eat. HAD TO. About a block from the theater a big Italian guy worked a grill on the sidewalk hollering “Sahsages! Getcha hot sahsages with onions and peppahs, heah! Grilled cawn on the COB! ZEPPOLIS! Right heah!”

    How could we resist? We ate this pipin’ hot chow with a beer and a glass of Chianti there at the sidewalk cafe, talked about the movie we’d just seen and soaked up a perfect fall day in Brooklyn. It could not have been better.

  4. I am so impressed with Julie Powell because she hasn’t stopped growing since the success of Julie/Julia. How easy would it be for her to just sit around in her jammies and eat Nutella? Okay, that’s my dream, not hers. But still. Her new book, CLEAVING (due out in December), has some people riled up because she talks openly and honestly about cheating on her husband. She lays out the bare facts against the backdrop of a butcher shop where she now works. I respect that kind of honesty, and I think she gets extra points because she didn’t *have* to write anything after Julie/Julia. She could have rested on her laurels — or her Nutella jar — and she didn’t.

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