c-julia

“Julia” is an easy to watch and generally entertaining documentary detailing the life of the titular television titan Julia Child. It stumbles into all too predictable pitfalls of bland presentation and some overbearing bias in favor of its subject. Despite these faults, it still manages to leave a positive impression.

Director double team Julie Cohen and Betsy West have released their latest film “Julia,” continuing their streak of documentaries centered around feminist icons like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Pauli Murray. This film serves as a biography of the life of cookbook author and celebrity chef Julia Child as told through the mouths of her close friends and contemporaries. The films made by Cohen and West tend to have a very democratic or left-leaning slant to the delivery of their information, something that viewers will either be attracted to or put off by, although it is much less pronounced in this film than in their past works.

The most alluring aspect of the film is the titular Julia Child, who serves as a fantastic subject for a documentary. Not only is her bubbly personality on full display throughout the film, but her rise to fame is quite interesting to watch unfold. The significance of Child’s life work is very clearly demonstrated by the end of the runtime, and I came away from the experience with a great appreciation for the path she paved for so many celebrity chefs and television personalities after her.

This film is surely to be a foodie’s delight because of the focus on the craft of cooking. During scenes when Julia Child is going through a recipe, original footage of food cooking is spliced in to add atmosphere. This original footage is mouth-wateringly gorgeous, and the tracking shots of food sizzling away are well filmed, with rich colors. 

While some aspects of this documentary stand out, there are others that are completely standard, namely the presentation. “Julia” primarily consists of clips of talking heads, which we cut back to every now and again, narrating over archival footage and photographs of Child. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this approach, some flashier editing or fancier locations for these interviews to take place in would be welcomed. Instead, we have footage that may as well have been filmed in the interviewees’ living rooms.

One of my worries going into this documentary was over context. Directors Cohen and West’s previous film “RBG” was incredibly self-serving, feeling less like an informative documentary on the judge’s life and more like a puff-piece to be played at her retirement party, completely skimming over any flaws in character she had in life. Unlike “RBG,” the subject of “Julia” was not alive during this film’s production, so I was optimistic that this same issue would not rear its head. 

What I got was a strange half measure, where flaws in Child’s character were brought up, but within the same breath she was absolved of said flaws. For example, Julia’s cold treatment toward the gay community was mentioned, and in the very same scene, the filmmakers go out of their way to show us how she ended up embracing the gay community after a friend of hers died of AIDS.

After watching “Julia,” I am left with a loving portrait of a vibrant woman who lived an incredibly important life to the world of American pop culture. However, it was presented in the most flattering, mediocre way possible. Overall, my experience with “Julia” does skew more positively than negatively, and I would give it a 6/10. Despite my criticisms of the presentation, the life and times of Julia Child are quite interesting to learn about, and I would recommend that those interested in learning about her watch this film, so long as they are aware of the overt biases that go into its creation. 

culture@dailynebraskan.com