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Something Like a Review: Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

There are parallels between the way I feel about the movie this book became compared to the book and the way the narrator felt about the real Julia Childs and the Julia in her head. Normally, I’m a purist and I’m sputtering and griping about the way Hollywood rapes an author’s work and makes it into something that only has the barest resemblances between the original work and the flickering images in theaters and available on DVD.

Normally.

I’m feeling a little off balance when I say this, but the movie was exponentially better than the book. I’m glad it only took me a few days to read it, because if it took more than that away from The List, then I would be woefully disappointed.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m something of a book snob and as a result, I’m generally not a huge fan of books that make a huge splash in the media. Eat, Pray, Love is a good example, and Julie & Julia seems to be among the progenitors of the mass-appeal genre of self-discovery.

I have not seen the movie “Eat, Pray, Love,” but I’m not drawn to it the way I was drawn to “Julie & Julia” when it was released. In a word, I was enthralled by the movie. My SO and I bought it as soon as it was available on DVD and I’ve probably seen it half a dozen times. There’s an innocence to Julie (played by Amy Adams) and her little histrionic breakdowns are actually kind of charming because they’re balanced against the portrayal of her as a good person and a vivid, if brief, portrayal of the things she deals with in her job. The book, I’m sorry to say, is high on the histrionic breakdowns and very low on any kind of balancing factor. There is still discussion about what happens in her day to day, but it’s very expository, and lacks the impact of the scenes in the movie. I’m sure that the real Julie’s hissy fits are endearing to those who love her, but in the course of the book, there aren’t enough other characteristics or balancing vignettes of her softer, more rational side to endear the reader to the point where her cooking-frustration-inspired rages at her milquetoast husband are cute. Or even palatable.

If you understand the premise of the story before you pick up the book, then you know that there’s a certain amount of self-centeredness and self-importance to be expected with this story. It’s about blogging a personal challenge and the adventure of self-discovery the writer embarks on as a result. However, when reading a particular diatriabe of Julie’s on the matter of her self-centered behavior, I came across a telling and compelling comment “One thing about blogging is it gives you a blank check for whining.”

Yes, I get it; I’m not being unreasonable and my expectations aren’t unrealistic. Blogging, in some respects, is all about me-me-me-me-me. It’s a place to broadcast successes, to minimize, rage against (or outright ignore) defeats, and to hop up on your happy little soapbox and scream out anything you ever wanted to say to the world with the hope or expectation that someone out there is listening and agrees with you. (Let’s not get to the dissenters, after all, as their comments can be edited right out of such a little utopia.) Anyone, myself included, putting their words out here into the bloggosphere is in it at least partly for the self-aggrandizement inherent in the medium. The question is, if you don’t step outside the thick little shell of your skull, who’s going to keep coming back to read?

The book was bogged down with self-importance and what seemed to be the assumption that if her real life friends and family loved her dramatics, then those of us who don’t see the rest of her will love her too. If this unflattering portrayal is a form of brutal honesty, I commend Julie Powell for writing without censure and resisting the urge to cast herself in the best light, however, in the sense of “character” and “character development” with respect to her portrayal of herself, it was flat and I couldn’t seem to find any empathy for her. Personally, I got bored with her antics and about half way through the book, I was chasing the end. I wanted to know how it differed from the movie, where (and how) the path diverged and how the hell the movie I loved came from the book in my hand.

I’ve you’ve seen the movie and loved it, be happy with that and don’t pursue it any further. In your mind’s eye, picture Amy Adams as Julie and enjoy the ride through her life and her story. If you haven’t seen the movie because of your experience with the book, take a couple of hours and sit down to watch the movie. Julie’s character is more endearing in the film version, and maybe find a great fun foodie flick. This is one story Hollywood has done justice to, and maybe saved from nihilistic self-importance.

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  1. June 2, 2011 at 12:23 am

    I’m with you. Sometimes when I see a movie, I want to read the book to pluck out the differences. It’s disappointing when the book doesn’t surpass the movie to say the least. Julie & Julia was one of those delightful gems I actually enjoyed in a movie. I can’t say I’ll be reading the book, however.

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