Last night I dined with my husband and a group of 6 women for New Year's Eve at a charming little Italian restaurant (sounds cliche when I write it). We're an educated bunch: 3 academics, 2 school teachers, an artist, a chef and a librarian. The topic of books came up several times and because I've been engrossed in the life of Julie Powell, a la her blog-cum-memoir Julie & Julia, I mentioned that I was on the final pages. The women swooned, "Have you seen the movie?" (I haven't.) Amy Adams (who plays Powell) is fine, but Meryl Streep is - clutch the chest - divine. Streep, of course, plays Julia Child during her middle years, the years she spent learning to cook in Paris before becoming, well, Julia Child. This part of the film is based on Child's own memoir, My Life in France. I haven't read Child's memoir (though, now I would like to) nor have I seen the film, so you can see I had little to say about Streep's most-probably-Oscar-nominated performance. Most people found "Julie" irritating, petulant, and simply in the way of Streep's powerhouse portrayal. And this, people, makes me frustrated as hell!
Julie & Julia, the book, is a very funny, often gruesome, highly entertaining read. Julie - the REAL Julie, is fallible, self-conscious, under-confident, wickedly funny, inappropriate and vulgar, intelligent, insightful, and unapologetically, politically liberal. I'd recommend the book for my book club, except for the fact that we have one Republican member - a high school friend of mine who remembers her inner-city roots with volunteer sweat and monetary contributions, but still voted for McCain/Pallin. Powell's writing is incendiary at times, and I don't want to anger my friend, Kim. Not that I disagree with Powell, who at the time of writing her blog was working for Homeland Security at an agency responsible of memorializing Ground Zero a year after 9/11. I don't think any of this is mentioned in the movie. A shame.
Another bit that I love about Powell's personality is her unabashed love of Joss Whedon, specifically for Buffy the Vampire Slayer (I was a huge Firefly fan, myself), David Straitharn who I have adored since he appeared on The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (as Moss, the antiquarian bookstore owner) and in every John Sayles movie I can think of starting with (and I could be wrong here, but this is what I recall) Matewan, and Jason Bateman, whose comic timing on Arrested Development is genius (smirk for me again, Jason). So, yes, I relate to her and her self-deprecating sense of sick humor.
Strangely, I am not a cook, but I am drawn to several cooking-themed memoirs. Ruth Reichl's trilogy, starting with Tender at the Bone, rank up with my favorite books. Cooking and food, in general, are at the heart of these memoirs, but the recipes stand for much more. In Powell's book they represent determination, camaraderie, filial loyalty, and the transcendence of stultifying circumstances. So, I do take umbrage when people who haven't read the book dismiss the "Julie" character as flighty and annoying. She is actually quite grounded and rational. And, yes, I know that the woman has an affair in her next memoir, Cleaving, which sits by my side waiting to be opened despite wretched reviews from the New York Times. Anyone whose first memories of Mastering the Art of French Cooking correspond with secret bathroom readings of her father's copy of the Joy of Sex is okay in my book. Anyone who shows the blemishes of screaming "Idiot!" at her supportive husband along with the successes of a gorgeous Pate de Canard en Croute (boned stuffed duck in a pastry crust) is anything but plaintive. And New York Times be damned, I'm reading her next book!