12.29.2009

Julie & Julia


We had something of a perfect storm in our living room a few nights ago. There was a great movie (love those--check) about cooking (check), blogging (check), writing (check), eating (check) and living (extra check).
It's that last part that really should resonate with audiences that get a look at Julie & Julia. The story is a dual narrative, following the life of a frustrated novelist (Julie Powell) who takes to blogging about French cooking as an outlet for her creative energies. She treats the blogging like a training regimen, and slowly builds something real out of that crazy world of accumulated protons and electrons that we call the internet. Powell is admirably played by Amy Adams, a fine actor who also shined in the excellent film Doubt. Adams plays Powell, for all her manic tendencies and mood swings and insecurities, to the point of annoyance. That's a good actor, the kind that can make a character seem suitably annoying. Still, she balances the performance with illustrating Powell's gracious side.
Powell's muse, figuratively and literally, is the great Julia Child. I think this is the more fascinating of the two narratives; delving into Julia's single-minded focus to publish something great is truly an inspiration to those who peck away at manuscripts on a daily basis. Her love for her husband Paul (excellent turn here by Stanley Tucci) is equally impressive, as is her zest for life. Child embraces each day, and the challenges life holds, with passion and pragmatism. And, she's a bit of a sexpot in this film (there's a great line that I won't repeat here, but you'll know it when you hear it; priceless!), and she doesn't suffer malingerers lightly.
I have a great deal of respect for Meryl Streep. Her turn here is--well, it's uncanny. My mother, a servantless American cook of the highest caliber, watched many episodes of Julia's show while I was growing up. I distinctly recall Julia's sincere love for cooking, her passion for eating and that hilarious sing-song voice she had.
Meryl does all of that perfectly here. In fact, after her turn in Doubt, I can't think of an actor who's doing better work right now in Hollywood.
But, as I said in the introduction to this post, this movie is about life. Julie Powell is treading water in hers; Julia Child takes each day on. This is illustrated in her dogged pursuit of her culinary degree, her challenge in the face of a patriarchal cooking culture in Paris, France, her love for the city itself and her insistence that those who don't contribute shouldn't also receive credit. There's a simple shot of Child dicing a whole bag of onions, working on her knife skills like Mike Jordan raining hundreds of jumpers in the gym during his rookie season in Chicago.
Julia doesn't do anything halfway, and when she commits to her cookbook, the first volume checks in at over 700 pages!
Julie Powell learns, with the fullness of time and after lots of emotional breakdowns, that finishing is the key to success. Huh--who would have thought, right? She completes her goal of cooking 524 recipes in 365 days and, ultimately, gets her book deal.
This movie is a 'B' overall. The third act feels rushed, and director Nora Ephron doesn't effectively address the fact that Child, in reality, didn't endorse Julie Powell's efforts with the blog. That's a serious bit of unfinished business. Still, it's a charming film and well worth a look.
I signed a contract for the publication of a story I wrote in the summer called "The Mermaids of Ichnipopka Springs." BYU's Leading Edge will be publishing the tale this winter. The editors at Leading Edge were great to work with, and I'm excited with the version we came up with. Some solid whittling of the prose took place, and the final version feels like a good, lean read.
If you've e-mailed me over the break and are awaiting a response, sorry about the delay. The college is doing maintenance on its systems. No e-mail for any of us until after January 4. That's pretty cool, because I've been getting a fair amount of writing done, as well as spending loads of time with my wife and daughter.
John Connolly's The Gates is superb. We'll be watching Paranormal Activity tonight, and of course, Oregon plays this Friday...life is good!

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