As you may recall, after I saw the movie Julie and Julia, I wrote a very scathing post about the movie, arguing that it contained completely unnecessary attacks on Republicans. Long-time blog friend Earl left a thoughtful comment arguing that the movie was redeemed, completely, through its presentation of marriage:
What I LOVED about Julie and Julia, and the reason I’m telling all my friends and relatives to go and see it, was the positive portrayal of marriage…..loving, imperfect, “real”…..especially Julie’s. The “modern”characters each act badly at times, but they realize it and make amends and get back together and do better. They’re truly committed in a way that young people need to see…and self-centered as Julie is (and she REALLY is – but I act a bit like that [ignoring 'most everything in my focus on the immediate] when things get tough at work, so I was cutting her some slack), she “gets it” pretty quickly, and she deletes a mention of the fight from her blog, and really does reach out to her husband when he shows up. “Please be back” just hit me in the solar plexus — she didn’t have to say that, but it communicated everything!
While very much respecting Earl’s viewpoint (and wishing more movies met his standards), I argued that the modern Julie character was so awful the movie made the marriage look more like a martyrdom than a partnership. This was separate from the fact that Julia Child’s marriage apparently was a true match of adoring equals:
However, I also find that it’s a woman’s movie in that, with the modern Julie character, it says that you can be utterly self-centered and demanding, as long as you cry prettily and express remorse when the chips are down. That Julia’s husband would love her makes sense. Although I found the shrieks and whoops irritating, her lust for life was clearly an attraction. With the Julie character, I just didn’t get it — and maybe that’s because I’m a gal and saw only another in a series of neurotic women. I’m good friends with a lot of neurotic women — heck, I am a neurotic woman — and there’s a fine line between charming and unlovable.
Perhaps because I’m such an aficionado of women’s romance novels, it turns out that my read was probably a more accurate one, if not of the movie, than of the real situation in the real Julie Powell’s life. You see, Julie has written another book about what happened after fame, and it’s ugly, at least as applies to her and her attitude towards marriage, fidelity and her husband:
But now, in Ms. Powell’s “Cleaving,” two years have passed, and things have changed. Despite her phenomenal literary success, her 10-year marriage to Eric is falling apart. She is having a sado-masochistic affair with “D,” an old flame, whom she ends up stalking. Oh, and she has decided to become a butcher’s apprentice.
Ms. Powell juxtaposes the details of her butchering with her obsession with the dreaded “D.” She loves being bruised and roughed up by him. It makes her feel “fierce, strong—emancipated.” How could this be so? “The first time he slapped me across the face, after all, I was bound in trusses I’d given him.” Readers may find such passages disturbing, as they are no doubt meant to be, not least because they echo earlier scenes of humans lethally dominating animals.
The author shows a certain sadistic streak of her own in the way she treats Eric. A tiny detail says it all. Did she really have to write that, when “D,” in one of their trysts, unzips Ms. Powell’s black high-heeled boots, he finds that she is wearing what she calls “stupid argyle socks,” adding “Eric’s socks, actually”?
I continue to applaud Earl’s belief that marriage is neither a sleaze-fest nor a relationship of impossible perfection, both of which are normative for Hollywood movies. I wish that Hollywood would portray the ordinary tensions of truly loving matches. And while it might have touched upon that in Julie and Julia, there’s no doubt that the real Julie’s narcissism made such a relationship impossible to sustain.