In Reviews

November 12th, 2021




In my teenage years I used to joke about Julia Child, her bellowing voice, her maternal stature, and high puffed hair. She was certainly an easy target when PBS-Channel-11 was on the dial. The truth is I was joking out of what little I knew, where I certainly wasn’t an age to care about cooking, and I was worried about other things in my young age. I still don’t cook much, but I definitely have more respect for the legendary Julia Child. Her legacy lives on today, a pioneer in cooking-show television, and memorialized in the successful film Julie & Julia; It’s no wonder to find that Julia Child makes the perfect subject for a documentary. The team of Julie Cohen and Betsy West (the same directors as the RBG doc) take a fresh new approach at dissecting the life of Julia Child, using in-depth readings from her diary, and never before seen footage to deliver a full grasp of all the things that made her known by one name- Julia.

2021 has been an excellent year for documentaries, ranging from strong music docs, profiles of enigmatic characters such as Jacques Cousteau or Anthony Bourdain, deep dives into cultural situations with All These Sons, or historical events such as The Rescue. Because of all those great films to catch, my hope is that there’s an audience for Julia, and an awakening to who this person was. It seems like time has not forgotten Julia Child, but has not always kept her in mind for the history of chef’s as entertainers. The mark she left in the world of cooking for women is something that Cohen and West do an excellent job of highlighting, while also showing her human side, revealing the authentic person that we saw in front of and behind the camera.

The narrative style is a mixture of some talking heads, voice-over, footage from past shows, and readings from Julia Child’s journal. Much like a gumbo or soup Cohen and West are throwing all of the standard documentary styles and still making a delectable film. The amount of success covered in Julia is deep, from her early start trying to make it, being the only women in a man’s world at Le Cordon Bleu, the struggle to get her Mastering the Art of French Cooking published, the start of her show The French Chef, her persistent drive to make everything a success, and her long relationship with husband Paul Cushing Child. By the end of Julia it’s easy to fall in love with her and wonder how anyone could not have loved what she brought to the table? She’s undoubtedly the matriarch of cooking celebrities.

Like any documentary Julia tends to be a bit nicer to the subject than negative, but Cohen and West do an excellent job of focusing on what may be perceived as the shortcomings of Child’s life. An interesting aspect is a dive into Julia’s personal demons, with the way she looked as a taller woman, her inability to have children, and fighting the sexism that persisted in kitchens all over the world. By the end of Julia it is obvious that this was a person with a big heart, a genuine love for food, and a fighter through a world that often wants to tell us no.

If anything Julia is just a beautiful celebration of Julia Child because she deserves it. The subject is not around to see the tribute made in this film, but if she were alive today one hopes she would see that her legacy, from here and on, would be given the credit she deserves. There’s no Bobby Flay, there’s no Guy Fieri, and we are without the riches of recipes for great cooking. Julia Child is a legend in the kitchen and a trailblazer for the craft. She is a one of a kind and Julia is a documentary that undoubtedly cements that.



Written by: Leo Brady

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