Documentary filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West are back at it again with the story of unlikely television star Julia Child in Julia.
Julia Child was a legend but she reached this point late in her life. She is proof that if you don’t find fame in your 20s or 30s, you could possibly find it in your 50s. This is exactly what she did when she called into a Boston public television statement about needing a hot plate for a cooking demonstration. She cooked an omelet and the rest is history. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, once expected to be a flop, ended up becoming a massive hit. The cookbook’s popularity came a rising level of fame aided by her own television series, The French Chef. During the late 1970s, Dan Aykroyd would spoof her on Saturday Night Live. After her death, Meryl Streep would earn another Oscar nomination upon portraying her in Nora Ephron’s final film before her passing, Julie and Julia.
I’m not going to rehash her biography as you’re more than welcome to look it up elsewhere. The following books would be a good place to start if the film leaves you wanting more:
- Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
- My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud’homme
- The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act by Alex Prud’homme
What Cohen and West do is pack so much of her life into about a hour and a half. Could this film be longer? Oh, certainly. That’s the thing with legends like Julia Child–you can only do so much with this sort of runtime. They definitely hit the important things including her husband, Paul Child. It’s sad to watch the part of the documentary where his deteriorating condition from dementia is discussed.
One thing this film does well is recreate the macro food photography in a recreation of Child’s Cambridge, Mass. kitchen. I mean, you can’t not talk about the food and then not let us see it being prepared. Susan Spungen reprises her role from Julie and Julia as a food stylist. Oscar-winning composer Rachel Portman tailors a score that is especially accompanies the food. Her score isn’t the kind that you’d expect for the big budget blockbusters but it does the job for the film.
The filmmakers reach into the archives to give us footage we’ve never seen before in addition to the usual photos and personal accounts. Child died in 2004 so she isn’t around to speak about her life. This is where all of the archival TV interviews come into play. As we learn from the personal accounts, Child is a woman who had to evolve with the times. She did not exactly use the most preferable terms when it came to the gay and lesbian community.
Julia Child was one of the few women who dominated in a man’s world–perhaps this film will inspire people to fall in love with the culinary arts. Without Julia Child knocking the doors down, the cooking genre might evolve as it did.
DIRECTORS: Julie Cohen & Betsy West
FEATURING: Julia Child, Ruth Reichl, Sara Moulton, Jacques Pepin, José Andrés, Marcus Samuelsson, Ina Garten, Alex Prud’Homme