I found Nora Ephron’s portrayal of a 30-year-old blogger in Julie and Julia so offensive I’m going to indulge in an intergenerational critique. Generally I try to avoid harping on generational differences between women, associating it as I do with whiny middle-class white women suffering from a prolonged case of adolescent rebellion. But Ephron’s portrayal of Julie Powell, who created the Julie/Julia Project in 2002, a blog that described a year-long journey to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s epic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” dismissed the continued difficulties of women seeking a purpose outside of the traditional roles of raising children and the newer imperative of making lots of money to prove that their self-sufficiency and independence is deserved.
Powell was a failed novelist who worked in a cubical at the lower Manhattan redevelopment project when she began her year-long project, which landed her a book deal, the rights of which were also sold to produce Julie and Julia. I didn’t read the blog—not many people read blogs back then, difficult as it is to remember this—but I did read and enjoy the book. Powell’s life as a childless 30-something woman who expresses no desire for children, whose career has stalled and whose ambition has become nameless spoke to me, as I spent my first year outside of academia struggling to build credibility as fledgling journalist. It was a pleasure to see Powell develop her own sense of legitimacy as a writer through her blog. I liked the portrayal of the complexities of her marriage in the book too, grateful for a story from a woman who seemed to be on equal footing in her relationship with her husband, despite the fact that she was rather lost in her work while he was on steady ground.
None of the pleasures of the book translated in the film, where Julie is a spoiled brat, who whines her way through a year of cooking as her husband, “the saint,” a title the character at one point disavows but the film ultimately endorses, lends his strong shoulder of support. A typical scene: Julie drops a stuffed piece of foul, sinks to the floor in a tantrum and slathers herself in the stuffing, which appeared to be pate- based. Meanwhile, her sage husband calmly fields a phone call from a reporter who wants to do a story on the Julie/Julia project, which the pate-covered Julie accepts, rising from the floor, but still sniffing, toddler-like.
One might conclude from the repetition of such scenes in the Julie segments of the film that Ephron lacks respect for women, but then there is her tender, thoughtful representation of Julia Child. In the movie, Child is a misfit of a woman who nonetheless blazes passionately through her life with little regrets, but one: She is unable to have a child. And since “one must do something,” as Child says in the film, she learns to cook, and brings the United States French cooking in the form of her book, her accomplishment offered to the world in lieu of her heart’s desire of children.
What then, is Julie’s blog, clearly not a stand in for a child? Given how it serves as a way for her to master and manage her own impetuous temperament, the blog seems like Julie’s pacifier. A child’s toy.
Indeed the contrast between Julia and Juila’s levels of maturity are so pronounced that the audience might have been shocked if reminded of the slight age difference between the two. Julia is 36 when the film begins, a mere 6 years older than Julie, which indicated to me that Ephron’s problem is with younger women of my generation. Rather than using the clear parallels between the women’s lives to tell an intergenerational story by comparison and contrast, the film simply finds a whining Julie undeserving of comparison.
Julie, the film suggests, who doesn’t long for children, revere her husband, or slog through the time-honored process of slaving away on an opus to see her words in print, does not have a life to be taken seriously.