Julia Child represents a lot of things to people. Some just look at her as a quirky television personality. Others see her as a feminist icon. For others, she’s just an author. Whichever version of Child you gravitate towards, the documentary Julia caters to you. With absolutely delectable food cinematography and a genuine affection for its central subject, this is a doc that has a warm and fuzzy feeling connected to that. Non-fiction cinema almost never goes in that direction, so that’s something a bit unique in the field. The more you like food, the more you’re going to like this one, take it from a foodie like yours truly.
Julia is food porn, to be sure, but also a solid biopic doc. Small in ambition but long on love, the film really wants to leave you desperate for a good French meal, courtesy of a Child recipe. It’s not going to change the world, but in paying tribute to her, it certainly does almost everything right. Non-foodies may wonder what the fuss is to some degree, but it’s likely that even so, her infectious personality will win the day in the end.
The documentary is, as you might imagine, the story of Julia Child, who managed to change the game when it came to food, female chefs, and who could be on television. More than just a cookbook author and television personality, Child defied the odds. We see her and hear her meeting her husband, almost deciding to go to culinary school on a whim, and managing to succeed where nearly everyone assumed she would fail. Of course, that would not be the case, and notably so.
Featuring some never-before-seen archival footage, as well as photos, first-person narratives, and of course, some incredibly food shots, we follow Child throughout her career. Obviously, her groundbreaking book is a focal point, with Mastering the Art of French Cooking in 1961 being a landmark. At its core though, Julia is about a married woman in her 50s who found her calling and in the process, found unlikely fame on television.
Julia Child is just eminently likable, with her distinctive look and personality. The documentary knows this and leans into this. You may not learn a whole lot of new things about her, but you’ll solidify your thoughts about her. In a way that a narrative like Julia & Julia never could, this doc is able to convey these things clearly and without melodramatics. The film is simple, but its effectiveness is in its non-fiction simplicity.
Filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West clearly love their subject. They also love food, and frankly, that was my favorite part of the movie. The food cinematography is downright pornographic at times. Not only is it just aesthetically pleasing and mouth watering, it hammers home the breadth of the recipes she crafted. You’ll appreciate her cookbook in a whole new way, and that’s an ace up the sleeves of Cohen and West, especially when they’re not exactly being revelatory when it comes to their subject herself. Buoyed by a Rachel Portman score, when we’re looking at the dishes, everything is just right in the world.
Julia will make you hungry, but it also will make you appreciate Julia Child just a little bit more. The flick knows what you want to see in a project about Child and doesn’t skimp. As long as you don’t go in expecting some kind of revolutionary documentary, you’re in for a tasty biopic treat. Forget junk food like Julie & Julia and instead dig in to this main course.