“Julia” (2021) – “Don’t be afraid of failure.” – Julia Child
Julia Child – television’s premiere cooking personality, who paved the way for hundreds (or is it thousands or tens of thousands?) of local, national, and worldwide on-air chefs – took her advice. Naturally, she was speaking about culinary gymnastics, but directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West – the dynamic documentary-duo behind “RBG” (2018) and “My Name is Pauli Murray” (2021) – clearly reveal that Ms. Child applied those same principles outside the kitchen as well.
Cohen and West lead the audience through the famous chef’s recipe of success and happiness over her 91 years. A lovely remembrance of this one-of-a-kind personality, “Julia” is a worthy tribute, but it’s also a straightforward presentation that doesn’t deviate from traditional documentary ingredients.
After the first few minutes, this chronological arrangement starts at Julia Carolyn McWilliams’ affluent beginnings in Pasadena, Calif. The oldest of three children, each kid grew into soaring statures, and Julia was the runt of the litter, standing at “only” 6’3”.
Even though Julia could physically look above her classmates and friends, she – growing up – couldn’t necessarily see beyond her family’s sheltered lifestyle. That all changed during WWII, as the United States shipped her overseas. Julia worked as a typist and clerk, and she met her husband-to-be, Paul Child. The young couple discovered each other and the world around them (in a couple of locations that will not be revealed in this review), but after the war, they landed in Paris, where Julia’s French cuisine education began.
Through a longer-than-you-can-imagine collaboration with Simone Beck, the two – in 1961 – published “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, a massive 700-plus hard-cover document that provided (and continues to supply) a far-reaching template for housewives (or anyone else) to prepare such meals at home with ordinary supermarket ingredients.
Their book was a colossal and revolutionary departure from the era’s disposable, processed meal prep, and the film explains that Julia infused science into her literary creation.
Science? Yes, science.
If her written words weren’t groundbreaking enough, wait for her WGBH (Boston) TV work on “The French Chef”. This wildly successful show led Child into American households as the airwaves connected her studio kitchen to so many homes in the cities, suburbs, and countrysides. The rest is history, and during the doc, chefs – like Jose Andres and Marcus Samuelsson – lather deserved praise Child for her enthusiasm, energy, and expertise.
After this 94-minute film ends, you’ll wish for a time machine to catch just 10 minutes with Ms. Child, chat about her love for food, get a selfie, and profusely thank her for her delightful and celebrated impact!
Most certainly, “Julia” accomplishes these warm feelings. If I had another 20 minutes, I’d ask questions that the movie doesn’t address: her favorite meal, her challenges of competing in a male-dominated field, and – no question – the origin of her irreplaceable accent.
That can’t be a Southern California cadence, right?
Still, “Julia” is an enjoyable and light experience, and it has encouraged this critic to – someday soon – pick up “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” and actually use an appliance that others refer to as a stove.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Directed by: Julie Cohen and Betsy West
Starring: Jose Andres, Ina Garten, Marcus Samuelsson, and Julia Child (archived footage)
Runtime: 94 minutes