Thursday, August 27, 2009

No animals were harmed in the making of this blog.

Julie and Julia comes with the "no animals were harmed" blessing of the Animal Humane Society in its credits. This is pretty funny for a movie that is a glorification of eating animals and whose culminating scene is the boning of a dead duck.
I can believe that the scene of Amy Adams (Julie) dropping live lobsters into boiling water was simulated (and were the lobsters then released into the wild?); but there is no way that that duck corpse was not once animated and quacking.
I am not offended.
I am not a rabid vegetarian.
I am simply amused.

It's an amusing movie. I liked it a whole lot. I went to see it for the same reason I cried when Walter Cronkite died: the voice. My father watched the news when I was little and my mother watched The French Chef. The distinctive voices trigger memories.

Meryl Streep got Julia Child's right: the second I heard her whinnying tones, I remembered ... the handwoven place mats of our family dinner table.

A family friend, a woman I called Aunt Emilie, wove these place mats. She was married to a Turk, and she wove in the colors of magic carpets, as if she'd gathered wisps of wool off bushes sheep had brushed passed, dusty with ochre, and dyed them pomegranate, olive leaf, and blue.

My mother cooked and served us meals out of Julia Child on those place mats. My foodie sister could tell you more about those meals, but I didn't pay much attention. I was a philistine. In the school cafeteria, with my container of leftover bœuf bourguignon and a slice of génoise cake wrapped in wax paper, I was jealous of the kids who pulled baloney sandwiches and twinkies out of their brown paper sacks.

I don't care much about things that happen in kitchens. For me, Julie and Julia is a movie not about cooking but about writing. Specifically, and wonderfully, blogging. I laughed a lot in recognition. Is it the first movie ever about blogging, based on a real blog?
Julie, you probably know, is a stalled writer--she's managed half a novel--who decides to blog about cooking every recipe in Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year. I wished there'd been less cooking and more blogging, but anyone who blogs will relate to bits like Julia's thrill at getting comments that aren't from her mom.

Julie and Julia is friendly and familiar--it's about women preparing food, after all--but it's also very unusual: it's a film about women pursuing their work, their art, with passion. Successfully! and without tragedy. They are not punished, hacked to bits, say, by animal activists. They are not sexless and alone. They both have lovely, edible husbands--Stanley Tucci plays Meryl Streep's. (If Tucci were a food, he would be the kind of mustard you slather.)

Sitting in the movie theater, I was struck by what a treat it was to be able to identify with movie heroes. I'm so used to translating the main characters (male) who do anything other than fall in love into "me," it's only its absence I notice.

You could call Julie and Julia a chick flick, I suppose, since it's about cooking, even if it's not about boyfriends, but it's one of the few movies I've ever seen that meets the Bechdel Test (from Alison Bechdel, creator of the cartoon Dykes to Watch Out For). The criteria are, the movie must:
1. have two women characters
2. who talk to each other
3. about something other than a man

(I might add, 4. and neither one dies. But there goes Alien, Thelma and Louise, Terms of Endearment ... leaving almost only Babette's Feast.)

I have an idea: movies that meet the criteria could add a little statement in the credits, like the Animal Humane Society one:
Two Women Talk About Something Other Than Men in This Film. (But they also kill lobsters.)


Anonymous said...

Hmmmm...yuuummmmmmm...aaaaahhh! How goes it, dear, edible one!? I didn't want to use words here, just sound letters, but, since the veriword just happens to be "ovenfusl", I had to shake my early morning mind out of its preverbal state and type meaning.

Love and Happy Film-Life!


Fresca said...

Hi, Stef!
This week, if I've been edible, I'm afraid I've been something like that loaf of bread that's been in the fridge so long it's growing a bit of mold. But not so much you can't find a decent piece in the middle.

This movie, however, makes me feel more like... um... sangria! It's full of sparkle and bounce.

momo said...

I saw this movie with Rosemary and my mom in SF. I also grew up with the show because my mother opened a cooking school in her kitchen, then went on to cook professionally in the Bay Area for years, in restaurants, catering, special event organizing, etc. She didn't know Julia well, but she did meet her and spend time with Simone Beck,her sister, and other members of the family on a number of occasions, in part because a very dear friendo of hers collaborated with Simone Beck on her own books. She told us some funny stories.

I love this post because I am so tired of reviews that only talk about Meryl STreep and Julia Child, that don't deal with the parallels between the two women as writers, that don't take seriously the fact that this is also a film about marriage and creativity for women.

Fresca said...

I wish you'd write a big long review of the movie, Momo! With your personal history, you have a lot to add.

I haven't actually read any reviews of this movie. I often skip reviews until I've made sense of a movie for myself.

momo said...

I hadn't thought of writing about the movie, but I might. The blog Julie/Julia was one of the first I discovered (through a recommendation by a blogger/scholar Krista knows), before the book came out and long before the movie. I read it the way one reads a novel and it was fascinating. So little of what I loved about it survives into the movie, but that's OK.