Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Trouble with Julie & Julia

December 16, 2009 by  
Filed under Body Image

Actress Amy Adams who plays Julie Powell & complains of her fatness in the movie.

"Real" Julie Powell

I didn’t just read Julia Child’s memoir, My Life in France—I devoured it. I was just as voracious for Julie & Julia, Julie Powell’s memoir based on the blog she wrote as she cooked all the recipes in Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When the news broke that they would be making a film that covered not only Julie & Julia but also My Life in France, I was obsessed with who would be cast in the Julie role.

Julie Powell is a cocktail relishing, steak-eating Texan who wasn’t petite to start with and wrote about the effects of all that rich French food on her weight. In real life, she looks like this. More than anything, I wanted to see the part played by someone who looked like she actually enjoys cooking and eating. When the news broke that Julie would be played by Amy Adams, so thin I somehow doubt she would be willing to eat any of the recipes in either book, I was dejected. It was a squandered opportunity to cast an actress who is not Hollywood-slim. At the time, I thought little of the casting of Meryl Streep, 60, to play Julia Child during her late 30s.

I didn’t go see the film when it was in theaters, but it’s now out on DVD and I watched it last week. Only twice during the movie does the Julie Powell character refer to her weight. It’s a recurring theme in the book.  At one point in the movie, in the midst of her cooking year, she says to a friend, “I looked fat,” regarding a photo of her that appeared in a magazine. The friend says, without a hint of irony, “just your face.” As if Amy Adam’s bony mug could ever look even the slightest bit chubby.

This whole exchange was so completely ridiculous that I almost had to turn the movie off. A similar moment occurred when she wails to her husband, “I used to be thin and now I’m getting fat.” Say what? Does Nora Ephron, writer and director of Julie & Julia, think I’m completely stupid? Am I really supposed to swallow that the professionally thin, eternally sample-size Amy Adams is anything close to fat? In the movie version of this story, she is nothing more than a reminder that for women, even if we are cookbook authors or food writers like Julie Powell and I, the only palatable version of us is a very thin one. You are only allowed to eat buttery French food for a whole year provided you start out thin and don’t gain an ounce, at least in the movies. (Julie Powell’s book makes it clear it didn’t go that way in real life.)

The day after I watched the movie, as my Amy-Adams-as-Julie-Powell anger was subsiding, I started to consider the Julia Child/Meryl Streep casting decision. When Julia ate that first meal in France, the oysters, sole, salad, and cheese that changed her life, she was 37. Meryl Streep, acting that scene, is 60. I am not suggesting that she doesn’t look younger than her years, nor am I saying that you can’t play an age other than your actual age, but a 60 year old woman playing a 37 year old woman? What is the thinking behind that? What does that mean?

There’s been a lot written and said about the scarcity of roles for actresses in their 30s and 40s, and the casting of Meryl Streep as Julia Child here made me think even more about it. Some actresses who are currently 37 include Gwyneth Paltrow, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner, and Selma Blair, not to mention the scores of undiscovered talents in that age range. What was wrong with all of them? I know she’s considered the most talent actress in Hollywood, but is Meryl Streep the only one with the talent to play that part?

The more I thought it about, the more I realized how reluctant movie makers, even female movie makers, are to let the world see women as we often are: hungry, non-skinny, aging but still sexually vibrant. Is it me or do we see dramatically less of Gwyneth, Cameron, and Selma than we did a few years ago? Conventional thinking is that the movie-going public hates to see icons of beauty, youth, and sex appeal somehow wane. But that thinking is flawed. I’d rather see us, especially in cases where a movie is depicting real women, as we actually are.

Movie makers don’t understand that we want to see these women mature as actors and as beauties. I have a sinking feeling that a 37 year old character (or actress) might as well be 60 in the eyes of Hollywood. As soon as you are one day older than Megan Fox (or whoever represents ultimate youth and hotness at a particular moment) you may as well be a grandmother. And in some ways this is even more disheartening than the impossibility of a large-as-life Julie Powell.


17 Responses to “The Trouble with Julie & Julia”
  1. CandiceBP says:

    I didn’t realize Julia Child was so young at her time in France. But I do agree with the blatant issue with women aging. I’m reminded of the 2008 presidential campaign when Rush Limbaugh doubted Hillary Clinton’s viability as a candidate by asking, “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”

    Uggghhh. You know, who cares if women have the chops to do the job they want, how do they look in a skirt and do they have crows feet?

    That said, I enjoyed the film, but only through the suspension of disbelief, putting aside what the reality of the story was and just viewing it as the film alone.

  2. lissa10279 says:

    I wasn’t bothered by Meryl in the film (age bothers me less than being true to appearance I guess?) but was def. irked by Amy Adams as the choice. There’s not an ounce of fat on that woman’s body and so it’s hard to hear her say she’s “getting fat” — esp if it wasn’t being authentic to the actual author. It just wasn’t a real depiction of the author and that was unsettling. On the flip side, I wouldn’t want to have to eat those rich foods every day for a year, either, and it would give me a lot of anxiety to put those copious amounts of butter, etc. into my body on a daily basis … even if it was for my “art.”

  3. Kim says:

    I agree with you that in Hollywood, once women enter their late thirties, they’re shunned. A few will reappear in their fifties as “classic actresses” (Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon, etc), but that phase of going from “young and vibrant’ (the twenties) to “aging” in the thirties is skipped, on the assumption that we, the audience, don’t want to see that…even though we DO. I was confused about Meryl Streep’s age in the movie. Sadly, I didn’t give much thought to the casting of Amy Adams. I’ve been conditioned to expect that thin actresses will be put in front of me, even if the real life person is not stick thin.
    Thanks for this post. You bring up so many great points.

  4. Joy Manning says:

    I agree that it’s an actor’s appearance that counts, and Meryl, as GREAT as she looks, doesn’t look remotely 37. That’s what got me. It’s like hollywood casting directors can’t even see women over the age of 29. It’s like they all look the same or something.

    And just for the record, I don’t think there’s a darn thing wrong with the real life Powell. In fact, I think we’re similar sizes for similar reasons. We’re both kind of not thin, not fat. And I was just eager to see that portrayed on screen.

  5. Casey says:

    Perhaps what might irritate me most in this lovely post of yours, is your point that even female executives, producers, directors, casting agents, etc. have blinders on when it comes to making a movie that shows real women being, well, real.

  6. Mish says:

    and this is why we have girls dieting at age 8 and women getting botox under 30 years old.

  7. living400lbs says:

    I had wondered why they couldn’t have someone more Julie’s size (and who would gain /some/ weight during filming) for her part, but I hadn’t realized the age difference between Streep and Child was so huge. Ow.

  8. Nell says:

    You know what struck me first after reading the whole post? “Cameron Diaz is under forty? WHOA! Hope I don’t look like that when I’m her age.” and then “wait- Mom didn’t look like that, so chances are I won’t, too.”

    OK, immature first response aside, I love Meryl Streep to bits. Amy Adams was perfect in Enchanted, Julie&Julia, not so much. I have to admit, I haven’t read the books (a first for me, normally I’m the one eternally bitching about movies not being true to books) so Meryl didn’t really put me off as Julia since I didn’t know what age she was supposed to be, but Amy did. I have cooked French before, both the Bocuse and “regular meal” variety, and neither are diet food. Nouvelle cuisine just tastes like it (ever tried tomato consomme? Talk about dishwater!). Somehow, that plus the weight-related comments in the movie conspired so that Amy didn’t “click” as Julie for me. She seemed like an actress playing a role the whole movie through while Meryl, for better or worse, seemed to become Julia.

    On a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, but I didn’t really think critically about it (which is what I’m aiming for when I take the time out to go see a movie). The fact that a sixty year-old actress is embodying a woman under forty never registered on my radar. Now that you’ve mentioned it, though… well, I realized the “Hollywood age gap” for the first time. That is not to say I bemoan the lack of Cameron! It’s just that I suddenly see things I didn’t see before.

    However, apart from the obvious bias that speaks from casting decisions, I think there are other reasons for casting “character actresses” like Meryl rather than “real age” actresses, and that those are on the one hand business related, on the other hand talent related. I admit to not having seen a lot of films with Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Garner or Selma Blair but- Meryl’s got them beat hands down at acting. Anyone still remember the cringe-fest that was Elektra? Of course, new talent could be found but Amy Adams isn’t such a well-known actress (at least internationally. When I mentioned her name just now at lunch everyone asked “Who?” and only identified her as “the Enchanted girl”), and I think movie-makers wanted a well-known name as a lure to the moviegoing audiences (or those who, like me, tend to buy a DVD because the name “Meryl Streep” is featured on the cover) and to counteract the relative anonymity of her co-star. Still, it is regrettable that such a large group of probably very talented people is being excluded from the major role casting rosters by merit of their age only. I’d love to see that change.

    (I’m also going to help myself to a big serving of popcorn along with Avatar with the girls tonight- last girls’ night out for the year! I get to choose the movie! Thankfully they serve salted popcorn in Germany now- I’ve been told that’s just been on the menu for a few years, and the sugared stuff they normally serve beats cotton candy on the sweetness scale. THANKS MOVIE THEATERS IN GERMANY!!!
    Anyway, blue cat people, popcorn and cocktails- perfect recipe, eh?)

  9. ellie says:

    I’m not sure that anybody other than Meryl Streep could have pulled off Julia, but it was a little odd. Still, I think that was a decision about having a famous actor, and one who could play the part.

    As to Amy Adams – hmmm. Obviously Hollywood is obsessed with thinness, and that’s a problem. But I like her neurotic little face. I can completely imagine having a friend just like her who thinks she’s getting fat, but is 30 pounds smaller than I am, and I’m not fat. It rung true to me even if it’s not true to the original. So I don’t know if it bothers me or not.

  10. TheDuder says:

    You are misinformed…Just because a woman is thin does not mean she doesn’t eat. At 5’4″ and 120ibs. Amy represents a healthy BMI (body mass index)-Though it would have been nice to have had a larger actress play Julie-I’m curious what actors you think would have played a better Julie Powell?

    • happybodies says:

      While BMI doesn’t really have anything to do with health, I do agree that we shouldn’t shame Amy Adams body just because she is thin. I really liked your point that:

      “Even if we are cookbook authors or food writers like Julie Powell and I, the only palatable version of us is a very thin one.”

      The fact that real women must be slimmed down in order to be in the public eye creates a narrow version of beauty, which is dangerous to women’s self image. However, in critiquing this system I think it is counterproductive to begin attacking thin women. Because thin women ARE beautiful, the point here is making sure that people remember that fat women (and women of all sizes) are beautiful too.

      I was disappointed by your comment that Amy Adams is,

      “so thin I somehow doubt she would be willing to eat any of the recipes in either book”

      I think it’s a problem ANYTIME that we look at people and decide that based on their body we know their eating habits, health, or value. Fat people don’t deserve that (as the Fat Acceptance movement advocates) but neither do this women.

      But yes, although Amy Adams was lovely in the part, I would absolutely loved to have seen a gorgeous bigger woman on screen enjoying food and being sexy.

      • Joy Manning says:

        I’m not shaming Amy–I have no idea whether her thinness represents her true natural size or a Hollywood-winnowed version of herself. It’s really more Nora Ephron I intend to shame for her irresponsible casting decisions.

  11. heart says:

    Hear, hear!! Sorry to jump in so late, but I have to give you a shout out for being too right about the transparent sell-out casting in the movie. Amy Adams is adorable, but very committed actors make themselves over to actually look like the people they portray, a la Renee Zellweger in the Bridget Jones movies and most famously Charlize Theron in Monster ( And producers and directors who are out to really portray something, instead of just to make a paycheck, find actors who look the part or can/will make themselves over, not box-office-insurance like Adams and Streep.

    And Julie Powell looks great, she is not remotely fat.

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