August 3, 2009

Taking It Home: Julie & Julia

("Taking It Home" is an alternative review style in which I share my thoughts on a movie's themes and how they may relate to my life, while focusing less on the acting, writing, technical aspects, or even plot of the film. It's a collection of the ideas I took home, "because the movie experience shouldn't end in the theater".)

“...the first Hollywood movie to have sprung from a blog, which in some sense makes it part of blogging history." - NYT

Julie & Julia, the surprisingly enjoyable new movie that's sure to end up one of 2009's biggest hits among women, is about blogging. Yes, blogging. And cooking, to be fair, but mostly blogging. More on that in a second.

Prior to this movie I knew little about Julia Child and even less (read: zero) about Julie Powell, the New York cubicle rat turned amateur cook turned blogger turned author. I didn't know, for example, that Julia Child didn't start cooking until well into adulthood, or that it took her years to gain any respect in the cooking world, or even that she was American (hearing her kooky voice all these years I guess I just assumed she was British). To dunces like me, Julie & Julia will provide an amusing and entertaining introduction to Julia Child. To her devotees, it will be a delight; Meryl Streep predictably, effortlessly succeeds in yet another outstanding performance that will no doubt send women of all ages whooping and hooting on the way out of theaters. Incidentally, they'll be headed directly to the nearest restaurant with everybody else, if not straight home to their kitchens.

As enjoyable as the movie may be due to copious shots of food with flair, there's a flavor in Julie & Julia that you can't fully taste unless you've had the opportunity to acquire it: the sometimes bitter swill of blogging frustration. I can't describe how differently I would have seen this film had it come out two summers ago, before I began spewing forth at Getafilm. Seeing it now, however, I found it hilariously encouraging to watch Julie Powell (Amy Adams) experience the joys of blogging alongside The Joy of Cooking, from her decision to start a blog to the excitement of receiving her first comments, from the pressure of posting regularly to the difficult decisions around disclosing personal information. It was a great deal of peculiar fun to see that experience on film, maybe doubly so since my blog happens to focus on film. I have to think other bloggers would agree, and for that aspect of Julie & Julia alone I would be anxious to recommend it.

But there's another side to the movie, and to blogging, that deserves to be seen on a massive multiplex screen: the harsh reality that "making it" (however you define "it") through blogging can be more difficult than deboning a duck. Like most people, Powell began her blog, The Julie/Julia Project, as a simple hobby, a way to keep herself accountable to a real-world challenge while connecting with others interested in that challenge. What was interesting about her blog, and what probably separates it from most (including mine), is that she had a clearly defined project that was only meant to "last" a year - the 365 days in which she would complete 524 recipes. She attracted readers quickly (surprisingly quickly, I might add), and eventually gained several thousand regulars who would comment and encourage her along the way. It was all innocent, self-fulfilling fun, but the real catalyst was this New York Times article that was published near the end of her project
(it being 2003, the term "Web log" was still necessary), which would change her life forever...or at least for a while.

Amy Adams as Julie Powell...

I'm not giving anything away, of course, since the movie itself could not exist without Powell's subsequent book, "Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen". She is releasing a second book, "Cleaving: a Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession", upon the release of Julie & Julia, and it's safe to assume she's receiving some royalties from selling the rights to her story to Columbia Pictures. But what's next? How long can you ride a wave of popularity based on a moment-in-time phenomenon? For another example, consider the case of Christian Lander, who turned "Stuff White People Like" into a book worth a few hundred thousand dollars, and who is now the host of an online TV show (is that an oxymoron?...anyway, it's some kind of new media phenomenon).

In light of Powell's success, then, Julie & Julia can be seen as not just the first movie created by a blog, and not just the first movie about blogging, but the most inspirational movie about blogging as well, since m
illions of bloggers (and there are millions of us) will no doubt leave the theater thinking, "What if...?".

But unless you start blogging with the sole intent of turning it into a business, or unless you have an amazing stroke of PR luck (Powell), or unless you have some great idea that will catch the wave of pop culture at just the right time (Lander), or unless you are willing and able to devote 40+ hours a week to your blog, well there's really no way to know where your blog will end up, and even then how long it will take. I remember reading a NYT article a few weeks ago, "When the Thrill of Blogging is Gone", which cited a 2008 Technorati survey as follows: "...only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled."

Depending on your goals, that's a reality check that can leave you with some serious indigestion. See Julie & Julia and call me in the morning.

What did you take home?


  1. Interesting post on the main thing that fascinates me about Julie and Julia. Can one make an engaging film about blogging? Given the amount of time one spends in front of a computer screen, it doesn't seem promising. While watching the trailer, I wondered if Julia Child would completely overwhelm the Powell side of the storyline, and Amy Adams looks so diminished and frumpy in the role.

  2. I want to see this movie because of Julia Child, not blogging, though I'm sure that will be fun. I was a huge fan of Child and have her classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which gets a good workout in my kitchen. I'm not at all surprised at the following Powell garnered. If I had known about her, I'd probably have been a regular reader as well.

  3. FilmDr, as I was successfully able to go into this movie blind (no trailer, no synopsis, no nothing) the blogging aspect of it totally blindsided me. I can assure you that Child and Powell receive equal attention here (Adams fans will be as happy as Streep fans), and much of the blogging storyline doesn't so much happen in front of a computer, but in conversations and thoughts Powell has. They are amusing and accurate because they are, of course, real. To the extent that J&J is the first movie about blogging, I'm glad that got a lot of it right (though if you click on the NYT link I quote to lead off, you'll learn of an inaccuracy that only true blogging nerds can appreciate).

    Marilyn, it's implicit from my post but I should underscore that I enjoyed the movie almost entirely due to the blogging/ambition storyline, and someone who knows more about Child (you) may see the movie in an entirely different light. Or rather, you'll probably enjoy it just as much, but for the reasons it "should" be enjoyed - the fun with the food and the cackling whilst cooking.

  4. You know, it's strange being one of the bloggers you refer to that that aspect of this movie never really appealed to me. Maybe because it's played down in the trailer, but you've got me reconsidering this movie.

    I love Julia Child. I'm a total cooking show nerd from way back when I used to watch Julia Child and The Galloping Gourmet with my stay-at-home mom after school. I would be really excited about a whole Julia Child movie, especially one starring Meryl Streep as the woman in question. This Julie Powell person and her social problems? Not so much.

    I'm a huge fan of Amy Adams...or at least I was until the double blows of Enchanted and Miss Pettigrew...but that half of the story just isn't grabbing me.

    Still, what you say makes sense and when I see this (as I will), I'll approach it with an open mind.

  5. I'm getting nervous that I'm overselling how big a part the blogging plays in this. Maybe I should clarify that J&J is "about blogging" in an understated way, and that non-bloggers won't tune it to it nearly as much as bloggers.

    As much as you're a fan of JC I'm surprised you weren't planning on seeing this anyway, even if it only constitutes a 1/2 a movie about her. Streep delivers, so if you like her AND JC, well 1/2 a movie should be good enough.

    I think the ingredients are there for you to enjoy this a fair amount.

    I swear I'm not trying to add cooking lingo and food analogies to everything here but, well, that's just the way the cookie crumbles.

  6. I'm definitely going to see it even though I'm not exactly the target audience for this kind of thing and I'm going to try and keep an open mind about the JP bits (blogging or no blogging).

    If the Meryl Streep parts are great, even if the Amy Adams parts are only ok, it will still be good I think. can't keep away from food analogies. It's impossible.

  7. "It's impossible," says the guy who doesn't do it...

  8. I will probably see this tomorrow - it doesn't open on Cape Cod until then. (It opened early in the Twin Cities?). Actually, the blogging side of the story is making me more interested in seeing it.

    Funny that you thought Julia Child was British. I used to live in Cambridge, Mass, and there was a little market at Harvard Square she used to frequent. One time she passed me in the doorway. She was tall! Then, later, in San Francisco, I took a group of students to a morning talk show and the featured guest was Julia Child. She made a bunch of omelettes.

  9. Ha, great anecdotes, Hokahey. Her height is definitely played up a bit in the movie (or maybe rather her sister's height), and it was a big surprise to me. Well I'll be interested in your thoughts after seeing it (and no, I saw an early screening, it didn't open any earlier than usual here).

  10. Very true --- the blog element of course is very personal in blog world.

    Imagine getafilm as a movie --- it would have to be very Being John Malkovich of Adaptation...

    Maybe you're blogging and the movie is happening and then you're reviewing the movie and the movie is changing, and suddenly you can't get out of the movie becuase the blog is in the movie is in the blog ---- whooosh! That could be exhausting!

  11. Yeah, RC, the whole thing could get very Kaufman-esque very quickly.

    I look forward to bloggers chiming in here with any additional thoughts after they see it. Most of us probably took it for granted to see a character doing something that all of us do regularly, but it's worth stepping back to realize that blogs (and for that matter social media sites) have not really seen any screen time. In short, this little hobby of ours is all growed up.


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