What Would Julia Have Thought?

I have just returned to Bryn Teg, my mountain retreat in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, after a whirlwind trip to do my share of promoting the about-to-be-released movie, Julie and Julia. After sixteen interviews in one day in Toronto and seventeen in Boston plus a panel discussion following a screening of the film, instead of being drained, I felt exhilarated. There is such an outpouring of affection for Julia that the fun of having her in the guise of Meryl Streep back on the screen is positively infectious.

When I first looked at my schedule I wondered whether I had enough to say about everyone’s favorite cook and if I wouldn’t just be repeating the same old stories. But curiously each interviewer seemed to have a slightly different personal take on the subject and their questions were varied and probing enough to keep things perking. There was one question that persisted, however, and that was: What would Julia have thought of the movie?

There’s no easy answer to that but it’s interesting that it seemed such a concern. It is as though her fans wanted to protect her. Obviously it’s hard for anyone to see herself projected on screen, and the telling characteristics of voice and gesture as acted out by someone else can make one uncomfortably self-conscious. For all her good sportsmanship, I sensed that Julia was rather embarrassed by the Dan Aykroyd caricature on Saturday Night Live. But, first and foremost, Julia was a pro and she valued superior performance. So I am sure she would have admired the marvelous alchemy that takes place as Meryl Streep becomes the essence of Julia before our eyes.

Also, Julia was a bit of a ham, as she would readily admit. She understood that you have to create drama in a role, and a touch of high-pitched exaggeration is part of the game. She certainly would have warmed to the Paris scenes, particularly the moments at the market when those macho French vendors seem enchanted by her exuberance and clear love of food. As for chopping those piles of onions in order to perfect her knife skills, that would have hit home.

Above all, Julia would have been delighted by the young people in the audience who went away thinking cooking was fun and wanted to get into the kitchen with Julia. Julie, as played so engagingly by Amy Adams, begins to really enjoy the challenge she has set herself and she feels empowered by her mentor’s presence.

Julia Child was driven by a sense of mission. She genuinely wanted to teach her fellow Americans the secrets and subtleties and rewards of French cooking. So how could she not appreciate Julie and Julia for awakening a whole new generation to Mastering the Art?

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