Fresh from the oven, Julia is a new documentary biopic from filmmakers Julie Cohen and Betsy West, celebrating the unique and storied legacy of chef and television host Julia Child. For forty years, Child’s television series entitled The French Chef has been considered a cornerstone in the history of public broadcasting, paving the way for educational television in the decades to come.
West and Cohen seem a tasteful fit for this project, having previously collaborated on works highlighting other women of great reverence, such as the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the 2018 biopic, RBG. Child served as a trendsetter on the culinary scene in many respects, bringing French cuisine—once considered a luxury far beyond the reach of most—to households across America. With her amiable attitude and easy-going approach, Child taught her audience that whipping up mouthwatering creations was a feat far from rocket science.
“She wouldn’t worry when she made a mistake, and just incorporated it into her show,” West mused, in an interview with press. “She didn’t come across as didactic, just as someone trying to share what she knew, which gave her so much pleasure.”
Child’s first television series, The French Chef, premiered on Boston-area station WGBH in 1962, for which Child was paid a meager $50 per episode. Her series taught skills such as cooking up fluffy omelets and roasting meats to picturesque perfection. Child’s tutelage came at a time when American cuisine seemed to be at rock bottom: rife with molded mayonnaise “salads” and canned mystery meats.
“We’ve got interviews with French people recalling their visits to America in the 60s, and just being appalled at the state of grocery stores,” Cohen remarked. “Things were pretty paltry, especially in produce. If you wanted mushrooms, you’d have to go to the canned food aisle.”
More than just a pioneer in cuisine, Child changed the way many viewed femininity as a whole, during an age in which the specter of the ideal American housewife had an iron grip on popular culture. At 6″2, her towering stature and singsong way of speech stood in stark contrast to one another, yet formed a unique charm that drew audiences in and made them feel at ease. Widely beloved as she was, however, her unconventional existence drew the inevitable critics from the woodwork.
“At every turn,” Cohen explained, “people wanted to question, dismiss, trivialize or roll their eyes at what Julia Child was up to. Not just her, but her audience too. She writes this extremely complex, comprehensive, encyclopedic and yet very readable book, puts down on paper how to make French food in an approachable way, and the publishing industry thought women wouldn’t be interested! ‘It’s too hard. It’ll be too complicated for their brains.’ But then she shows up on TV, makes her omelet, and the station gets a pulse. And then, the executives’’ response isn’t that they have a superstar on their hands, it’s giving her three shows for $50 a week.”
Julia pulls all the stops to ensure that Child is finally given her proper due, but Cohen and West hardly sugar-coat the chef’s legacy, either. Her conservative upbringing and traditional stance on many social issues of the era are outlined as well, painting Child in all her human flaws as well as her triumphs. The film arrives at a time in which cooking has found renewed importance in the lives of so many: those seeking some fresh fulfilment to day after dreary day spent in lockdown. As the joy of cooking returns to the home, Child’s influence remains deeply embedded in our culinary consciousness, reminding everyone from professionals to the most amateur cook that a high-class meal is not out of reach.
Julia hits US theaters beginning November 12th, and will premiere in the UK starting March 18th of next year.