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JULIA - Review - We Are Movie Geeks

Review

JULIA – Review

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Julia Child in Cheese & Wine Party. Photograph by Paul Child. © Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Julia Child is a name nearly everyone recognizes, if for nothing else than she has been so often affectionately parodied as the smiling middle-age woman with the high-pitched voice fearlessly wielding a cleaver on a TV cooking show, and carrying on no matter what happens in her live-TV show. But the late Julia Child was much more, a transformative figure in how American women regarded cooking, the woman who launched a thousand cooking shows (at least!), a bestselling author, a ground-breaker against ageism and sexism, and someone who led a remarkable life by any measure.

JULIA is co-directors Julia Cohen’s and Betsy West’s affectionate, food-filled documentary about this towering figure (literally and figuratively) in American cooking, a documentary that makes a convincing case that Julia Child changed how cooking was perceived in America, changing it from a chore to a creative joy.

This is not West and Cohen’s first documentary about an iconic, ground-breaking woman, as the pair also directed RBG, the excellent 2018 documentary about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Julia Child had a fascinating life on so many levels, and ground-breaking on many levels as well. The first woman accepted into Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu cooking school, a bestselling author with her cookbook “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” and a TV star at age 50 with her long-running PBS cooking show, there much to enjoy and amaze in JULIA. While Julia Child was the subject of an earlier narrative film JULIE AND JULIA, in which Meryl Streep played Child and Stanley Tucci played her diplomatic-service husband Paul Child, this documentary more fully (and accurately) explores some of the intriguing aspects of her personal life that film revealed, and adds in some much more lesser-known sides of her life and career, in a fine, informative and well-crafted documentary.

JULIA mixes interviews with family, friends, and experts and archival stills and footage, and alternates that with lush, mouth-watering cooking segments, making the documentary a feast for the eyes as well as affectionate, in-depth tour of its subject’s life and career.

Julia Child did not grow up with cooking. She grew up in a wealthy, Republican, conservative California family, as one of three tall children, all over 6 feet. Julia was expected to follow the traditional path of affluent women of her era, to marry and settle down to a country-club life, but Julia longed for adventure. When World War II broken out, she signed up for military service, where her typing skills landed her in the OSS, precursor to the CIA, which sent her to the Far East. There she met her husband Paul, who was doing diplomatic work while serving overseas. Paul Child, a decade older, introduced her to a wider view of the world and a love of food.

If you love cooking shows, you owe a debt to Julia Child, who created the first one after she gave a quick cooking demonstration on a PBS show for authors while promoting her cookbook “The Art of French Cooking.” The documentary delves into how Julia Child’s bubbly personality and enthusiasm for cooking transformed American attitudes on what had been regarded as a chore to be dispensed with as quickly as possible with frozen dinners and canned vegetables, changing it into a form of creative expression and entertainment. Key to that was her insistence that during that author’s interview on public television show she would cook an omelet on TV as she talked. It was something never done before, and audiences clamored for more.

Julia launched her PBS cooking show as live TV, which meant anything could happen – and they did. Part of her appeal to audiences was her unflappable, good-natured humor in dealing with kitchen mishaps, turning them into teachable moments for how to cope when thing go a bit wrong in the kitchen. What’s more, Child launched this show when she was 50, at a time when you never saw an ordinary-looking, middle-aged woman on TV, making her an unintentional ground-breaker against sexism and ageism simultaneously.

Much of what Julia Child accomplished is impressive, and her unlikely personal life and life-long love affair with husband Paul makes for a warm romantic touch. The documentary also covers some less familiar facts, giving a warts-and-all look at her life and career, although always with a sympathetic eye. One of the lesser known details is her transformation in attitude on gays, from traditional conservative views to a staunch supporter in the fight against AIDS, one of the many admirable if less known parts of her life that this fine documentary spotlights.

JULIA serves up a well-rounded exploration of Julia Child’s long career and life, and does so in a charming, affectionate way, The documentary JULIA is sure to charm and impress audiences as much as its subject Julia Child did.

JULIA opens in theaters on Nov. 19

RATING: 3 out of 4 stars

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