AFI FEST 2021 REVIEW! It’s impossible to watch Julia, the new documentary from RBG directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West, and not be put in a good mood. Julia Child was an iconic chef, and Cohen and West’s loving portrait feels entirely respectful and in awe of the empire, she created. Like RBG, the directors’ reverence is clear, but they don’t shy away from giving a three-dimensional examination of their subject.
Child was a larger-than-life figure in many ways, from her personality to her appearance. She was tall, had a distinctive voice, and an upbeat personality. One could argue that she was always made for television. She didn’t start in television until she was in her 50s, where, as the documentary states, she became more than just a chef but a cultural icon. Child remained humble and insisted she was just the right woman at the right time.
It’s clear Child never sought celebrity, which followed her as she became a much more prominent figure in pop culture. Instead, she was a woman who simply loved French cuisine and wanted to share her passion with American audiences. She even hoped to inspire audiences to explore the cuisine independently, which she aimed to make a less daunting task on her show. Perhaps known as her most iconic contribution to the world of cooking, Child’s book Mastering the Art of French Cooking sealed her rise to fame.
“…a larger-than-life figure in many ways, from her personality to her appearance.”
Julia isn’t entirely comprised of mouth-watering shots of food and footage of Child cooking – though there is plenty of that. The filmmakers give us a glimpse into Child’s life before culinary stardom. When she was a young girl, her parents wanted her to marry, but she had no interest. She began working as a clerk typist for the Office of Strategic Services in World War II, where she met her eventual husband Paul Child, who she was married to for 48 years, until his death. Besides being a biography, the documentary is a multi-faceted love story; there is nothing more Child loved than cooking and her husband.
Cohen and West – two hardworking documentarians, who are debuting Julia before their previous title, My Name is Pauli Murray, has been distributed – made sure to include that Child developed a reputation as a hard negotiator, as she became more in demand. She wasn’t always as “genial” as she appeared on TV and worked to get more than 50 percent of the earnings of the next volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which she co-authored). She knew she was the star and knew that required a lot more of her time and responsibilities.
Child’s ascension in pop culture was rapid, but she is known as revolutionizing public television. From SNL portrayals (the documentary includes she liked Dan Akroyd’s impersonation of her) to Meryl Streep’s Oscar-nominated performance in Julie & Julia, Child has made her mark. Julia effectively and efficiently tells us why.
Julia screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…Child has made her mark. Julia effectively and efficiently tells us why."