Julie & Julia isn’t really a very good movie. It’s palatable, and Meryl Streep is mildly funny as the late Julia Child, and that’s it. So when Northwestern sophomore Lawrence Dai decided to watch the movie every day for a year and blog about it, the denizens of the Internet issued a collective “huh?”
As a blog about a movie about a book about a blog about a book about a life, The Lawrence/Julie & Julia Project is, admittedly, way past meta. Moreover, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why would anyone undertake such a thankless project without some sort of light at the end of the tunnel—a book deal, marketability, not having to watch a shitty movie over and over?
The A.V. Club caught up with Dai, who’s kind of become an Internet mini-sensation himself lately, to talk about his motivation, views on lobster killing, and how long he thinks it will take him to go certifiably insane.
The A.V. Club: How did The Lawrence/Julie & Julia Project come about?
Lawrence Dai: Two weeks ago, I handed in a big term paper for a film analysis class. I’d been pulling all-nighters, and I was on an adrenaline high. I wanted to watch a movie that could slowly take me down and put me to sleep, so I picked the 2009 culinary romance drama Julie & Julia.
You know how you have all those movies on your Netflix instant queue that you’re meaning to get to, but you never get around to it? This was one of those.
The next thing I knew, I was in bed watching it for the first time, and it was pretty enjoyable. I liked it, though I realized how absurd the premise was. It’s half dedicated to someone on a computer, writing about someone in the other half of the movie. It just struck me as weird, Meryl Streep playing this American icon, so who cares about some blogger?
I sent a few of my friends a joke text saying, “I think I’m going to write about Julie & Julia every day for a year,” thinking I was just being meta and that it was a stupid joke, but one friend texted me back in all caps, “JUST DO IT.” I think she was fed up with my general lack of follow-through.
In my sleep deprivation and eagerness to prove my friend wrong, it just drove me to do the blog. So, like all great ideas, it was born out of a stupid joke-text.
AVC: So, you’re more than two weeks into the project now. Can you recite the whole movie?
LD: I know the major plot points and great lines, but I couldn’t duplicate the screenplay yet. Give me a few more days.
AVC: Do you actually sit and watch the movie or do you just have it on in the background while you do other things?
LD: The first couple times, I sat and watched the whole thing, but it gets pretty tedious at times. It’s two hours long, and it has no reason to be two hours long. Since then, I’ve invited friends, and I’m coming up with different gimmicks to pass the time. Like I’ve done some counting posts, and for those I don’t really pay attention to the movie, I just listen to things happening.
Usually I can just zone out. Julia Child’s going to do something delightful and it will be great.
AVC: So do you honestly like the movie or what?
LD: It’s pretty good. It’s an above average flick.
AVC: So, three out of five stars?
LD: Yeah. It’s so inoffensive. No one’s going to get all riled up about Julie & Julia. It’s an idealized world where everything tastes delicious, and Meryl Streep has a hilarious, endearing high-pitched voice.
You know, people have asked why I didn’t pick another movie, like something more serious, but that’s the whole point of this project.
AVC: I mean, this is a movie about doing something for a year.
LD: Yeah, and there’s no way I could watch something I enjoyed because that would ruin it for me. I don’t mind Julie & Julia being ruined forever. Meryl’s always great, so I don’t mind watching her every day for two hours, though.
AVC: Have you looked at the Julie & Julia book or the original blog that sparked the whole thing?
LD: I haven’t looked at the book, but I looked at the original blog. I kind of set out to lampoon that and steal her template a little. I just changed a few words in the initial posts.
The whole blog wasn’t supposed to be a serious thing, but then [Julie Powell] commented on my first post. I thought it was a friend, but then I clicked through to her Blogger profile, and it was her. She said, “Wow. This is impressive, both in terms of its research and its randomness. Kudos!,” which was weird, because I was basically taking a dump on what she dedicated her life to, and she gives me kudos? That was the most surreal thing for sure until I started getting news attention.
AVC: You’ll probably have to read the book at some point, I would think.
LD: I have about 350 more posts to do, so I’ll probably look at the book. I’ll cook. At what point do I start making pleas for celebrities to come watch the movie with me?
AVC: Do you hate the movie yet? Is there anything about this you’re regretting?
LD: The fact is that I don’t actually have to do things. I just have to sit through a movie. It gets a little grating, and the Amy Adams parts kind of dragged on even the first time, so the 13th time through, they still drag. They couldn’t make her look that great.
AVC: What are your favorite parts of the movie, then?
LD: I like the lobster scene, that whole tangent about how she can’t handle the lobster, and it’s this big existential animal abuse question at hand. The lobster looks like a puppet. It’s the fakest thing ever. It’s supposed to be comic relief, but there’s not drama up to that point.
There are a lot of scenes in the movie that are pretty excessive, that don’t drive the plot, story, or whatever.
I like the lobster, though. I like when [Julie’s] boyfriend sings “Lobster Killer” to the tune of Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer.” He’s the guy who looks like Mark Ruffalo, but isn’t.
I also love all the scenes Meryl’s in. I like her noises, sighs, and smiles. Her noises are great.
AVC: How are you dealing with online naysayers or people who are cynical about your intentions?
LD: This is my first interaction with Internet commenters, and they really are the best folk around. One of my friends put my blog on Reddit, and the comments have all been like, “This guy has to be screwed up in the head,” or that I’m an idiot seeking attention just for the sake of attention. I get, “doesn’t he have anything better to do with his life?” a lot.
But really, why not? I was enjoying college but not really doing anything. I needed some sort of outlet and it’s bizarre it happened this way.
AVC: Doing this blog might get you a job quicker than being in a club or something would, really.
LD: It’s completely surreal. If I saw the blog on the Internet, I’d think it was a pretty dumb idea, which I know seems counterintuitive. It’s a pretty dumb idea. I’m not going to lie. I’ll just ride this wave of psycho Internet fame while I still can.
AVC: Do you think you’re really going to make it a full year? I think even Julie Powell had some days where she’d just phone in a five-minute sauce or something.
LD: That’s the other question I get a lot. I think it’s feasible. I think a lot of people—maybe 90 percent of my readers—are reading to see when I’m going to fail or to watch me go slowly insane.
I’ve compiled some more post ideas, though, having seen the film a couple of times. I anticipate writing about other things. I won’t have great posts every day, but I’ll try. I’ll dedicate myself to quality, but some days, I think I’ve earned the right to phone it in.