Julia Child and French Cooking

B documentary
Directed by Julie Cohen & Betsy West

I didn’t really want to watch or review this documentary about Julia Child. Why? First of all, current cinema is overflowing with documentaries about the lives of famously beloved people. If you’re not a fan of the subject, the movie doesn’t mean much. And I’ve never been interested in Julia Child.

To make things worse, current cinema is also overflowing with films (documentary and fictional) about cooking and eating gourmet food. With a few exceptions, I really don’t want to watch people discover the perfect noodles, the ultimate omelet, or the idyllic bullfrog pie. It was my wife who asked me to review this film. Surprisingly, I’m glad I did.

Directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West caught me with a montage of cooking images set to rock music (I often listen to rock while cooking). And as Child’s life story unrolled, I got caught up in it. This isn’t for the most part a story of struggle and sadness, but of joy and happiness.

But not entirely. Julia McWilliams was born into a wealthy, conservative family, with a father who wanted her to marry a man of similar wealth and beliefs, and stay at home. she was not to be noticed. She joined the military in World War II, where she met and married Paul Child, a man of less money and more sense. And yes, the marriage lasted. They lived some time in Paris, where Julia learned French cooking. But there was a problem: French chefs were supposed to be men. That didn’t stop her. Child wrote Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which became a bestseller and started her very long and successful television career.

Much of the film is made of scenes from her various television shows (and, of course, Dan Aykroyd’s hilarious and bloody SNL sketch). When I watched the documentary, I assumed that all the scenes of Child cooking were from her TV shows. But according to the press kit, at least some of those pictures of food were made for the movie by cinematographer Claudia Raschke, who worked to make the food look mouth-watering delicious.

But those shots of supposedly delectable food didn’t work for me. I’ve been a vegetarian since 1970. When I look at chicken or beef sizzling in a pan with glistening juices, I see a dead animal, not a delicious meal. In other words, I came in assuming that I was going to hate the movie. But for the most part, I was wrong.

Julia opens Friday, November 19 at the Embarcadero Center and the Albany Twin. It will open in other theaters a week later.