Julie & Julia And The Lives Of Writers

I recently watched (again) the charming movie Julie & Julia. It stars Meryl Streep as television chef and cookbook author Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie Powell, who wrote a blog about making every recipe in Child’s book Mastering The Art Of French Cooking over the course of a year.

The movie alternates between telling the stories of both women. Child and her husband are living in France during the 1950s when she decides to learn French cooking. This eventually leads to a partnership with two French women to write a cookbook specifically for Americans, and, of course, her cooking show and status as America’s first celebrity chef. Julie Powell, frustrated with a job she doesn’t like and feeling directionless in life, decides to start a blog about cooking, which eventually leads to a book and movie deal.

As Julie cooks the recipes and writes about them on her blog, we see Child struggle to write and sell what would turn out to be a revolutionary work that would change how Americans cook.

What struck me on this viewing was how much I identified with both Child and Powell as aspiring writers, even though neither wrote fiction. Their journeys are probably similar to most writers. Both try to conquer self-doubt and acquire authority so people will take them seriously. Julia Child has a terrible time at the Cordon Bleu, because not only is she a woman, she is an AMERICAN woman. Julie Powell is a tad jealous of friends who seem to be zooming past her on the ladder of success and has trouble calling herself a “real” writer.

Like many writers, both have to work at low-paying jobs. Child teaches cooking classes for little more than what it costs to buy the ingredients and Powell works at a dead-end customer service job. Both have severe set-backs and face rejection many times. Private tribulations and unexpected turns in their lives also intrude on their goals.

It isn’t all bad. Both are lucky to have support from their family and friends, which is something all writers need.

Like Julie Powell, I’ve felt disappointment in myself until I finish a project. Like Julia Child, I’ve felt that exact same elation when I prepare to submit my work.

“I love this moment,” she says, as she packs up her cookbook. “All things are still possible.”

Both Julie and Julia face harsh criticism and have to work through it. In one of the most startling moments in the film, Julie finds out that Julia Child (who was still alive at the time) knows about her blog and seems insulted by it. Having someone you admire not “get” what you’re expressing is something every writer goes through at one time or another.

Both women go through moments where they want to give up. But neither gives up.

For a movie that is not overtly about being a writer, it’s one of the best portrayals I’ve seen of the frustrations and joys of this crazy endeavor. And for this writer, the moments when both women meet their goals are especially sweet.

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