MOVIE OF THE WEEK November 12, 2021: JULIA

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Whether you’re hungry for a rich beef bourguignon or intimate details about a pop culture icon, you can’t go wrong with Julie Cohen and Betsy West‘s engaging take on the inestimable Julia Child. Julia is both a delectable food movie and a meaty (pun intended) documentary, adeptly capturing the spirit and energy of the woman who transformed the landscape of contemporary American home cooking with her passion for making French food accessible to all.

Mixing interviews, excerpts from diaries and letters, and archival footage, Julia covers Child’s life from start to finish: her privileged childhood in Pasadena, her top-secret work with the Office of Strategic Services during World War II, her married life in post-war France, and her eventual breakthrough on U.S. public television thanks to her landmark cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That book, inspired by her love of all things French — especially the food — helped launch her career, but it was Child’s verve, disarming presence, and belief that cuisine should be part of everyday life that made her a household name.

Child, who learned to cook as an adult after marrying her beloved husband Paul and didn’t become famous until she was in her 50s, was an excellent example of the adage that “it’s never too late.” But while her larger-than-life personality made her memorable (and mockable — as Dan Aykroyd’s famous Saturday Night Live skit, which pops up a couple of times, clearly and affectionately illustrates), it didn’t always make things easy for her. The film touches on her conflict with cookbook co-author Simone Beck, her struggles with PBS, and her own shortcomings as an ally (though she did make real progress on the last one after the AIDS crisis hit home).

West and Cohen treat their subject with both respect and honesty, building a portrait of a woman who was as complex as the food she so adored. Ultimately, Julia is very much like one of Child’s beloved French recipes: a proven quantity that’s made with excellent ingredients, flavored with the right blend of spices, and assembled with care and enthusiasm. And the cooking footage will leave you drooling. — Betsy Bozdech

Team #MOTW’s comments:

Nell Minow: I love the way this film incorporates the journals and correspondence of Paul and Julia Child to add a vibrant, personal tone to sstory of the remarkable woman and improbable television star who revolutionized cooking, eating, and even grocery shopping. For those of us who fast-forward through the Julie part to get back to the Julia part of “Julie & Julia,” this is nothing short of delicious.

Sherin Nicole Icon is a difficult word to wear but Julia Child steps into it easily. She was the first celebrity chef on television, she made Americans more adventurous with our food, and she did it with whimsical charisma, technical skill, and an indomitable business sense. Julia gives us a window into her many facets, in large part narrated by the grande dame herself, but also through footage going back to her early 20s, and through the remembrances of family, friends, and her celebrity chef scions. Read full review.

Loren King Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, Julia combines crowd pleaser and feminist perspective. It celebrates Child’s accomplishments and outsized personality as she became an unlikely TV star at age 50 when her cooking show The French Chef debuted on Boston’s WGBH in 1963. Child’s low budget show was unedited, allowing for the ad libs and occasional gaffes that endeared her to viewers. Read full review.

Susan Wloszczyna: One probably should not watch this doc on an empty stomach, given how West and Cohen recreate Child’s famous dishes, including a delectable succulent chicken laid out like a centerfold that might just require an X rating, delicate filets of sole drenched in butter and a delicious example of beef bourguignon, whose aroma seems to virtually waft from the screen. Read full review.

Loren King Directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, Julia combines crowd pleaser and feminist perspective. It celebrates Child’s accomplishments and outsized personality as she became an unlikely TV star at age 50 when her cooking show The French Chef debuted on Boston’s WGBH in 1963. Child’s low budget show was unedited, allowing for the ad libs and occasional gaffes that endeared her to viewers. Read full review.

Pam Grady: Be prepared to dust off that copy of The Art of French Cooking and start cooking after watching this effervescent documentary on Julia Child, TV’s first superstar chef and the woman who introduced Continental cooking to generations of Americans. This biographical portrait is all encompassing, limning her privileged girlhood in Pasadena, CA; her service for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) during World War II that brought her all over the globe and introduced her to her husband Paul; and her decision to attend Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu cooking school during the 1950s, which lead to the cookbooks, the cooking shows, and worldwide acclaim. Family members, fellow chefs like Jacques Pepin and Jose Andres, work colleagues, and friends offer observations and reminiscences, but it is Child’s own words and copious excerpts from her shows that make this lively documentary so riveting—and render it such a clarion call to culinary adventures in the kitchen

Marilyn Ferdinand Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volumes 1 and 2 hold a place of honor on my cookbook shelves, so I admit a certain fangirl bias in reviewing Julia, the informative and entertaining documentary about the original celebrity chef, Julia Child. Co-directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West set the unappetizing stage of American kitchens of the 1960s—TV dinners, canned vegetables, Jell-o molds, cream of mushroom soup sauces—and show how a WASP woman who was raising in Pasadena, Calif., fell in love with an American diplomat and France, became the only woman in her class at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris, and almost accidentally launched a career on TV teaching Americans the enjoyment of making delicious meals from scratch. While the film makes clear the enormous influence Child has had on gastronomy in the United States, what is striking about Julia is its love story. Paul Cushing Child adored his tall, intelligent wife (with great legs) and eventually gave up his career to promote hers in a manner completely atypical for a man of his era. There never was a woman like Julia Child, and Julia helps us to understand why.

Leslie Combemale As much of a fan as I am of documentary filmmaking team Julie Cohen and Betsy West, when I heard they were making a film about the life of Julia Child, simply called Julia, all I could think of was “what else can we possibly learn about her?” As a trailblazer and possibly the first celebrity chef, Julia Child has been covered plenty, and as a fan i’ve seen and read it all. To my surprise, Julia has a wealth of never-before-seen footage and intimate writings that reveal new insights into her experience. All that great footage and personal quotes, the scenes showing her support of abortion rights, and the information about a change of heart that made her a powerful ally in the fight against AIDS make the film fascinating and essential viewing to fans of the cultural icon.

Jennifer Merin Julia is as delightful and captivating a documentary as its subject: Julia Childs. Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen (the exemplary documentary team who brought us the laudable RBG and My Name is Paulie Murray biodocs) use archival footage to delve into the personality and personal life of the wonderful woman who changed the way the world eats. Bon appetit! And, caveat (or caviar) emptor: don’t watch while hungry!!!

Sandie Angulo Chen: Many, perhaps most, house-bound adults tuned in to some form of cooking or baking during the pandemic, so it’s fitting to see a documentary about the pioneering woman chef who started the broadcast food craze – the legendary Julia Child – as we are beginning to emerge from the fog of quarantine. While 2009’s film Julie & Julia was fabulous (because of Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci’s performances as Julia and Paul Child), this documentary explores the entire life of the inimitable cook, author, and television personality – who never allowed her gender nor her age stop her from meeting her goals. Documentarians Betsy West and Julie Cohen once again shine the spotlight on a feminist icon, who despite her conservative and patrician upbringing managed to transform into a progressive populist (she believed with proper technique, anyone could make quality food with supermarket ingredients) even as she promoted traditional French cuisine. Julia is one of the most crowd-pleasing biodocs of 2021.

Liz Whittemore Filmmakers Betsy West and Julie Cohen give us a mouthwatering documentary about the cultural icon Julia Child. Julia exposes the toxic masculinity inside the culinary industry. Child was a giant among men, often quite literally. Her physical stature is not to be outdone by her boisterous personality. Julia Child was a feminist, even a board member of Planned Parenthood. She didn’t let anyone tell her she couldn’t do something. Julia made sure to remain relevant. She was flirtatious, fearless, and ever-evolving as a human being. Some of the most beautiful aspects of the film come in friends and family doting on Julia and Pauls’ marriage. Their relationship is reminiscent of Ina and Jeffrey Garten‘s. Paul was her right-hand man, her biggest cheerleader, and he worshipped her. It’s a simple fact that Child paved the way for female chefs today. She essentially gave them instructions as intricately written as her first cookbook. Julia isn’t simply a documentary about a culinary icon. It is a lesson in passion, a love story, and a legacy on film.

Cate Marquis What a delicious treat this is! Julia is a mouth-watering, delightful documentary about Julia Child, the woman, who in her 50s, introduced American TV audiences to fine food cooking and showed them cooking could be fun – not something many American home cooks thought at the time. Following Julia Child’s fascinating, unlikely personal life as well as her ground-breaking career, challenging ageism and limits placed on women, starting with her entry into Le Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris as the only woman. Julia gives us the full story, along with beautiful food photography, and the joy of seeing Julia Child – and hearing her distinctive voice – again on screen in this fine biopic.

FILM DETAILS:

Title: Julia

Directors: Julie Cohen and Betsy West

Release Date: November 12, 2021

Running Time: 95 minutes

Language: English

Screenwriter: Documentary

Distribution Company: Sony Pictures Classics

Official Website

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).