The conceit of the movie is two women finding their voices through their vocations. One voice is familiar to us all, though Ephron picks an unfamiliar moment that helps us all discover the woman Julia Child was before she became the character we think we know: sensual and in love with her husband, food, Paris, and sex, in an order that probably changed by the day. The other is less familiar to us, and not just because Julia Child became a household icon and Julie Powell an early blogging heroine, in two different eras whose media defined their audiences: a mere three networks plus educational TV; the literally countless blogs on the Web. It's because the story takes up two very different women at very different points in their lives, however similar those points may seem.
Ephron's insight is to write parallel stories of newlyweds learning what and who they love, and how to balance the callings and requirements of work and relationships. Although she had source material to work from for both--My Life in France, Julia Child's memoir written with her great-nephew Alex Prud'homme, and of course Julie & Julia--her canvas was much broader and blanker for Julie Powell.
Child's life is of course a matter of recent and rich historical record: Mastering the Art of French Cooking, the book that started Powell on her journey; the years of her numerous TV shows, still available on video; her kitchen recreated in the Smithsonian, on the Mall--an affirmation of national-treasure status if there ever was one. When Child first got married and moved to Paris she was 20 years older than Powell, and had been through a world war and lived in Ceylon and China--exotic now, much more exotic then. Even if she couldn't find a channel for her voice, her fresh, endlessly inquisitive and interested voice, beautifully described by the wonderful writer Laura Shapiro in a recent review and documented in her short biography of Julia, was formed. When Powell began her blog she was not long out of college, finding both her voice and her vocation--and just starting to grow up, too.
A tall order and a journey still in progress, as we're lucky to have her describe for us. With blunt wit and candor Powell reminds us what the movie is really about, and it's not what you'd think. For both Julie and Julia, food is the vehicle for the voice and the vocation, not the vocation itself. The vocation is writing.
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