Julia |  ★★★½ | Opening November 24 at The Chelsea and Regal Crossroads

Julia Child didn’t need much to capture the appetite of audiences on television in the 1960s: just a hot plate, a frying pan, and a few eggs. The cameras rolled and she cooked.

The simplicity is what made the show work. Likewise, a new documentary highlighting the life of the trailblazing chef didn’t need much to tell her story.

Julia paints a warm, intimate portrait of the renowned chef using footage of Child from her decades on television, her letters, and interviews.

It’s refreshing in its straightforwardness and no-frills approach, placing Child firmly as the catalyst of a sea change in American cooking.

Before Child hit the small screen, American cuisine had hit what was possibly an all-time low: microwaved meals and colorful Jell-O “salads.”

It wasn’t until Child found herself living in postwar France that she was introduced to real cooking—sizzled and drizzled in butter, fat balanced with flavor and spice. It ignited her soul and became her calling.

Cooking wasn’t Child’s first love. That was her husband, Paul, whom she met in 1944, during WWII. At 6 foot 2, Child had been too tall to enlist in the army, so she hoped instead to be an intelligence officer, thinking her height would serve as a sort of disguise.

While stationed at the Office of Strategic Services in Kandy, she met Paul and married him two years later.

After the war, Child enrolled in the famous Le Cordon Bleu cooking school. At the time, cooking as a profession was dominated by men. It was less of a pastime than perfunctory: women did the prep work, but men ruled the kitchen.

Part of Child’s charm was her air of obliviousness to such boundaries, which is why perhaps she found it so easy to overstep them. She walked into a cooking classroom full of men hungry to learn. She didn’t hold herself back, and no one else did, either.

For Child, cooking was an act of self-love she could share, and television provided the perfect medium.

Like female chefs, cooking shows simply didn’t exist. As if naive to this fact, when scheduled to appear on an educational program to discuss her best-selling cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Child requested a hot plate.

With her style and humble narration, Child whipped up an omelet on-screen, captivating audiences and spawning a genre that would be endlessly replicated.

The success of Julia is that filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the Oscar-winning duo behind RBG and My Name Is Pauli Murray, realized Child’s story didn’t need much dressing to shine.

The approach was refreshing and reminded me of the types of documentaries I grew up with: found footage and simple narration, without CGI montages and cheesy reenactments.

The film is loving and kind, much like its subject, and educates as much as it endears. In cooking, as in film, sometimes less is more. 

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