There is a semi-serious joke on Twitter about the release of the Julian version of Julie and Julia. Nora Efron’s tale of Julia Child’s rise and the modern young woman trying to follow her example has her fans, but it’s no secret that Julia Child’s section is simply more interesting than Julie’s. Who cares if a blogger learns life lessons with beef burgundy when you can watch Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci personify each other in 1950s Paris?
But this is the essence of the desire to “completely cut Julia.” It’s not just the actors: it’s a fantasy of traveling a world full of food, wine, passion and fame, with a supportive husband in the passenger seat. If Julia Child didn’t really exist, I doubt anyone would have thought of inventing one.
Fortunately, Julia“A new documentary from RBG directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West in theaters on Friday helps satisfy that curiosity and unravels a little deeper into the personality of the grandiose who brought French cuisine to American homes and essentially invented the idea of the famous TV chef. … This is a loving and candid portrait of this extraordinary woman and her place in American culture.
It’s easy to forget that Julia Child lived her entire life before becoming “just Julia.” She was 49 when she published her first book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and 51 when her TV show kicked off. Our culture has a tendency to fetishize the precocious, or gloss over aspects of people’s lives that were before glory, especially when they are relatively free from drama or tragedy. But Julia reminds us that she never came out fully formed and even continued to develop in later years (except when it came to the idea of limiting the use of oil). Her trajectory would have been impossible to understand without looking at her privileged childhood in Pasadena, her education at Smith College, her refusal to marry the first arriving banker or doctor, and her international travels to work at the Office of Strategic Services, which is where she met. with Paul.
Cohen and West flesh out their story with talking head interviews from contemporary celebrity chefs like Jose Andres, Ina Garten and Markus Samuelsson, Julia’s friends, a treasure trove of video footage from her many hours of TV shows and some mouth-watering food porn. The filmmakers were smart by taking a few contemporary shots of her recipes in preparation. The Childs Show may have been a classic, but food photography has evolved for the better.
While Julia is largely a celebration, it doesn’t shy away from complexity, including her dubiously cold attitude towards her collaborator and friend after their initial success. The filmmakers from time to time try to include as much as possible in 95 minutes, which is no small feat for such a documented life, but the experience starts to feel a little hasty and undercooked. I would like to know more about why American households in the 1950s preferred convenience to the habits of their old parents and grandparents, or, for example, opposed the healthy eating movements in the 70s and 80s.
It’s still a nice and fun tribute to someone whose influence on modern food culture and celebrities is still felt. Just don’t go hungry.
Julia, produced by Sony Pictures Classics, is rated PG-13 by the American Cinematographers Association for “some themed elements, sexual references and short, hard language.” The duration of the performance is 95 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.
MPAA Definition PG-13: Strongly Advised Parents. Some content may not be suitable for children under the age of 13.
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