Literary Meets Culinary

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In the last month I have read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, watched the film adaptation, and read Julie Powell's memoir, Julie & Julia (I watched the film about a year ago). I have to say, it always surprises me when memoirs get made into films because in essence, a memoir is about infusing yourself in your words, something films generally can't capture. The exception to this in recent memory is the adaptation of 'An Education', however someone I know that read the book explained the romantic relationship the film is centred on is only a minor part of what is otherwise the ramblings of a fairly unremarkable person.

Here's my verdict on these two entries into foodie memoirs turned foodie films:

Eat Pray Love
The book: I am not really on the same wavelength as Elizabeth Gilbert. Her spritely, indulgent personality doesn't well mesh with the way I lead my own life, and I sometimes found her to be shallow, condescending, and self-absorbed. I walked away from the book shrugging my shoulders and going 'Really?'. I still generally feel that way, however I will say the spirit of the book has stayed with me. I recently moved, and some of the lessons Liz hands down from one traveler to another I have taken to heart and it has helped me make the transition and enjoy myself. So in that sense, I give her a pass, and say that I did appreciate the actual visible growth of herself as the pages turned.

Julie & Julia
The movie: All I have to say is ech. The movie didn't have spectacular reviews so my expectations going in were pretty low, and they were, humbly, met. The movie was way too long, and the devices by which to transmit Gilbert's written words were sloppy - often being told by minor characters instead of from the writer herself. Also the spiritual and emotional significance of certain scenes was downplayed compared to what they meant to Liz in the book. It was basically a rambling, overlong travel log, instead of a movie about a journey. Julia Roberts was a good pick for Elizabeth, and Javier Bardem as Felipe was awesome, but I felt like the book focused too much on some areas and not enough on others.

The Winner: Surprisingly, the book version.

The Book: A note. Sometimes people will stick like glue to whatever they encounter first - be it movie or film version. However my issues with the film were reflected in the book. I felt like the whole thing was sort of...meta. The book isn't so much about the Julie/Julia Project, it's about writing the Julie/Julia blog, experiencing a bit of fame and attention, the day to day gripings of a Generation X-er, and generous sprinklings of the trials and tribulations and general insanity of the project (524 french recipes in 365 days). The most enjoyable portion of this was, by far, the stories of cooking. In fact, I often found myself thinking, I'd rather be reading Julie's blog right now (or when the whole thing went down) than reading a book about blogging. The fact is, the end point in Julie's journey was getting a book deal, and reading a book about getting a book deal does not a good memoir make. Elizabeth Gilbert had her book deal in hand when she went on her trip, so perhaps that's the difference (although she also took care to show the journey was about the book deal, it was facilitated BY the book deal), but I felt like the concept here was spread thin and lent itself better to Julie's initial blog format (which is still online FYI) than a book.

The Movie: Going into the movie I'd been told two things: it had a very whimsical joie de vivre (to be all french) tone, and the Julia part was way better than the Julie part. I wholeheartedly agree. While the Julia segments in Julie's book are short little snippets with little bearing on the plot, the film actually picks up Julia's story more or less where Julie ends it - when she decides to attend Le Cordon Bleu. Meanwhile Julie is just as hysterical and condescending and critical in the film as she is in the book - it makes the generally likably but tiny bit shrill Amy Adams into a Shrill Sergeant (hah) and results in the temporary breakdown of Julie's marriage (which in real life doesn't happen till her second book). I thought the film did a great job at drawing that parallels and character traits that unwittingly bonded these two women, and picked up the highlights of Julie's story (including yes, the inevitable fame, attention, and book deal that lead to said movie, again META!) versus the spread like butter concept in the book.

The Winner: The Movie, by a long shot, although even there the Julie parts wear thin.

- Britt's On


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