“Julia” is a wonderful documentary. Born in 1912 in Pasadena, California, Julia Child didn’t have a rough childhood, but she struggled later in life and, remarkably, this film shows us all of her ups and downs.
Kudos to directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West for lovingly pointing out the good, rather than focusing on those challenging moments, such as Julia surviving breast cancer. Whether you think you’ll like this movie or not, watch it because I guarantee you will like it and before it’s over, you’ll love her.
By the end of her life, Julia Child had done it all and seen it all. She was a pioneer and an icon, reaching those brands by never giving up and teaching you to be similarly relentless when it came to achieving your goals. When she rose to fame, instead of cooking big meals for the family, people were warming Swanson dinners in the microwave. They were also eating SPAM, opting for convenience rather than consuming genuinely good food more fit to eat. Everyone wanted to save time, and they found the time to take, came easily from not wasting it in the kitchen.
Julia gave her first lessons in the kitchen of a Public Television station. The station wanted to interview her, but she insisted they have a place for her to cook. She was trusted and beloved, a published author, so when the show of her cooking aired, it was an instant success. Comments she would make while cooking were a big hit, as well. After, sales of her cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” skyrocketed, and the show took off. Three more shows were ordered. The culinary artist and chef within her was beyond ecstatic that she’d get a chance to show the public that cooking wasn’t only easy but pleasurable. During this part of the documentary, Cohen and West shower us with behind-the-scenes photographs.
Speaking of chefs, when she was starting out, Julia took on the chefs in France who didn’t want a woman in the kitchen. Never being chased out, she paved the way for other women to follow. The thoughts going on in her head at the time are posted on screen by way of letters to her friends and family. We also read about when she first meets Paul, the love of her life. She met him when she was a clerk/typist in the office of the strategic services, the precursor to the CIA. Both in the service, when they went to other countries, they continuously sampled the local food. In 1949, Paul took her to France, and she loved it so much, she never forgot the first meal she had. Once Julia tasted it, she finally knew what she wanted out of life and never once looked back.
It was then that she enrolled in the oldest cooking school in France, Le Cordon Bleu, where they taught the art of cooking. Paul admired her for what she was willing to put up with and wrote a letter home speaking of his marriage’s pleasures. He also told them he admired how skilled she was getting.
Like a chemist, Julia was very strict about the recipes that went into her book. ‘It should turn out exactly right.’ She didn’t believe in shortcuts. She had a partner in writing the cookbook, but it was due to her popularity that sales took off. Julia knew this. So, when it came time to write a second book, she demanded more of the profits. The film dives quite a bit into their relationship. It also gets into rejection and disappointment, not that there was a lot of that.
Before long, Julia’s face was on every magazine, and she was chumming it up with every talk show host who’d have her. Before one program, she cut her finger but kept on cooking, which was later made fun of on Saturday Night Live. Instead of being angry about the skit, she loved it and showed it to everyone.
At Eighty-Seven, she launched a twenty-two-part series with chef Jacques Pepin. In her later years, she loses a friend to AIDS; she becomes a strong advocate for AIDS research and helps put Planned Parenthood on the map, as well. In the end, she was still going strong, much like the documentary itself. See this if you don’t know who Julia Child is. Watch this if you’ve always loved her. I can’t stress this enough, watch this to get to know and appreciate her more than you’d ever think possible.
Directed by: Julie Cohen and Betsy West
Starring: Julia Child (archive footage), Charles Gibson, Ina Garten, Jane Friedman, André Cointreau, José Andrés
Run Time: 1h 35m