I grew up watching legendary chef Julia Child on public television and her antics always amused me, even as a young child. I was able to revisit that same star struck excitement while watching “Julia,” a terrific documentary from directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West about the beloved cookbook author and television host who inspired so many. Child was also one of the first feminists, defying gender roles by traveling the world and enrolling herself in the famed Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, where she studied some of the world’s most famous cuisines (and was the only woman in her class). After culinary training, Child co-wrote one of the most notable cookbooks of all time, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But it was when she was in her fifties that Child’s career really took off: that of a television cooking star.
This documentary is tailor-made for foodies, home cooks, and food lovers the world over. Cohen and West share a treasure trove of old home photos, archival footage, and interviews from the people who knew Child the best. There are so many interesting facts here, including rare gems about her early life and a beautiful love story between Julia and her supportive husband Paul (a man who did everything in his power to help his wife find success in her chosen career), proving she was so much more than just a woman in the kitchen.
The film tries to cover so much of Child’s life that it becomes a little unfocused, jumping around in time and topic while presenting a whirlwind of facts and anecdotes. While this is to be expected when tackling a subject that’s such an accomplished and revered culinary talent as Child, it makes certain sections of the documentary feel too much like a disorienting puff piece.
Missteps aside, the film captures the warm, funny, and charming character that Julia was, especially in the kitchen. Clips from her past television appearances drive it home, where she handled any cooking calamity with grace and wit.
Most women who cook adore Child as a pioneer for female chefs, but she is also well respected for her feminist ideals. Julia was part of the early stages of the women’s movement, a vocal supporter of Planned Parenthood and the gay community. Not only did she expand the possibility of what women could do behind a stove, she was a pioneer on social issues as well, lending her voice and platform to speak out.
While “Julia” is going to be a slam-dunk for those who already cherish her, this documentary will also open doors to audiences unfamiliar with her contributions to the culinary world. It’s hard not to love Child, and it’s equally difficult not to fall in love with this celebration of her life.
By: Louisa Moore