Spoiler alert: The answer is Julia, always, without question.
Continuing on my journey of food reading that basically came out of nowhere, I decided this time ‘round to go with a slightly more current pop culture choice—not terribly current because I like to be fashionably behind the times, but you know, a little bit of pop nonetheless.
For reasons I cannot explain, I chose Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously despite the kind of terrible reviews on Amazon and even though I saw the movie and had already determined that Julie kind of sucked (though Julia was fascinating; they should have made the entire movie about her). I figured that maybe the book was better.
I was wrong.
For as sucky and whiny and annoying as Julie is in the movie, she is infinitely more self-indulgent in the book. In the movie I think I kind of didn’t like Julie because I identified with her. You know, someone who is watching the years go by, unfulfilled in her job, wondering why her BIG writer dreams never really happened.
So what does she do, she starts a blog.
I did that! Me too! Hey over here!
Only when I saw how annoying Julie was about her dreams and whatnot, I kind of hated her because it kind of made me hate myself. But at least I understood where she was coming from.
In the book, she had few redeeming qualities. She's a former struggling actress (not a writer), which means that she’s abandoned that dream, but really has no clue what to do with her life, so she’s a secretary at the government agency charged with building the September 11 memorial. She hates her job. She’s married to a guy who seems really nice, but she treats him crap. They live in a horrible-sounding apartment in some Long Island City outside of Manhattan.
But hey it’s New York right? And for some people that is all that matters.
Did I mention that she has few redeeming qualities? The whole point of the book and movie (which you probably already know) is that Julie, who feels stuck in life and on the verge of almost-30 breakdown, decides to cook every recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. And she decides to blog about it in 2002 when blogs were still new to most of us.
So as the book goes on, we read about Julie run around town trying to find bone marrow for various obscure recipes; having fits of rage over failed attempts at making mayonnaise; treating her husband like a second-class citizen; flirting with her male coworker who seems like an asshole; bitching about republicans (which, I understand, but you know, we get it, you’re liberal); talking shit about the commenters on her blog who ask her to expand her vocabulary beyond the word “fuck” (which is kind of annoying, but seriously, she used it all the time, which felt, more than anything, a little forced); hating cooking/her life; wondering why she undertook this project; and finally, ending up with a ton of press, a book deal, and a movie option. And you’re left with the feeling that it couldn’t have happened to someone who deserved it less.
And all this wraps up with a lesson: Julia Child saved Julie’s life. Julia reached down and plucked Julie from her awful 9-to-5 government job and showered her with fame and fortune and thus, Julie now sits at home, in her pajama being a “writer.” Or something like that.
It’s a little disheartening, but there is one glimmer of hope, which comes not from Julie, but from Julia. Julia Child didn’t start cooking until she was 37. And it was then, at 37, she found her passion for cooking, a reason to get up in the morning, something to go after. I think that alone can give those of us who are still searching for the right path, particularly when it comes to careers, some hope. It’s not too late. You can find and then follow your dream at any age. You don’t have to find it in your early- to mid-twenties, which I think is a message many of us receive (intentional or not) when choosing a career. There’s still time. And that’s inspiring.
This is the point that I think Julie was trying to make, but it gets lost between her drama queen antics and delusions of grandeur.
I think My Life in France, Julia Child’s book, will be next on my list and probably infinitely more satisfying.