By Liz Lopez
Julie Cohen and Betsy West’s feature-length documentary, Julia, appealed to me so much more than any other previous film about Julia Child’s life and career. I did not anticipate feeling quite so satisfied with this story about a very well known and often written about celebrity cookbook writer and TV cooking show pioneer. The filmmakers not only focus on how Julia became the celebrity she is, the public Julia, but also the private life of Julia, her family and her husband. I finally connected with Julia in other ways I had not before and though I don’t consider myself a cook, I found myself wanting to be a fearless cook by the end of the film. I am not saying all viewers will walk out of the theater and run to the kitchen to become the next Julia Child, but this respectful tribute may be an eye – opener for younger generations who do not know what she went through to achieve her status. Keep in mind that the filmmaker’s previous works are RBG (2018 Ruth Bader Ginsburg tribute) and My Name Is Pauli Murray, so viewers who are fans (especially of RBG) can anticipate how Julia’s story is told and the fine details that come with it. We learn who she is starting with her birth as Julia McWilliams into a wealthy Pasadena family in 1912, a student at Smith and how she pushed through what others may have thought are barriers.
The film contains interview material with producer Russell Morash, and we see footage of her television debut for Boston PBS station WGBH in 1961. Those of us who enjoy Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” will see how the song is used in the film in a most entertaining and unexpected way.
Years before her celebrity status, Julia left her private life for that of military service and seeing other parts of the world. Despite her degree from a university, she has a typist job in the military, but does work for the OSS in the Far East. She meets Paul Child, a State Department official, and they connect over art, photography and other reasons, but not especially love at first sight. They married in 1946, were posted to Paris, and Julia began her studies at the Cordon Bleu culinary school as the only woman among all males who had previously been the only ones considered to be chefs. She is very candid about making a superb daily workday lunch for Paul and their love.
The filmmakers use archive footage along with interviews with family members, friends, and colleagues. Julia is seen as being humorous on her shows and telling the American audience not to worry about making mistakes while cooking. She did not mind repeating steps until she got it right. The clip of Dan Aykroyd impersonating her on Saturday Night Live is still hilarious after airing in the 1970s.
Child and Simone Beck collaborated on her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and after years of trying to have it published, it was, and Julia’s fame took off. It was not the same for Beck who had resentments. This is covered in the film, as is their reconnecting later in life. Paul was shown to be always proud of Julia and her success, by her side and supportive in many ways, including her bout with breast cancer.
I liked Nora Ephron’s Julie & Julia, which is semi-fictional and not a documentary, but like this better. I think this will be similarly well received as the filmmaker’s previous work if audiences give it a try.
The film had its world premiere at the 48th Telluride Film Festival on September 3rd and is now to be released in theaters November 24th. Rated PG-13, 1 hour 35 minutes.
Source: Sony Pictures Classics