According to this movie, if you own a garlic press, you probably have Julia Child to thank for it. The opening scenes of “Julia,” a lively documentary directed by Julie Cohen and Betsy West, paint a dire picture of suburban American home cooking in the post-World War II era: frozen entrees and Jell-O molds and Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam — an ethos that put convenience ahead of delectability.
With the double-whammy of an unlikely best-selling cookbook and a series that helped put public television on the map, Child changed all that.
Her story has been told, in fictionalized form, in the charming Nora Ephron film “Julie & Julia.” That 2009 picture commemorates Child’s impact on food culture through a parallel story, also fact based, of a blogger, Julie, making the recipes in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” which Child wrote with Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle.
This documentary is a conventional one, replete with archival footage and talking heads. Child, born in Pasadena, escaped an affluent and conservative upbringing by serving in World War II. Her husband, Paul Child, was both helpmeet and soul mate, supporting her when she enrolled in the exalted Cordon Bleu cooking school on the G.I. Bill — the only woman in her class.
Their marriage here is presented as an ideal stew of sex, food and intellectual compatibility. Among the many still photos here chronicling their love is a nude portrait of Julia, something you probably never thought you’d see.
The movie doesn’t shy away from Child’s personal shortcomings, touching on a casual homophobia she renounced when the AIDS crisis hit, pouring her energies into raising money to fight the disease. “Julia” is an apt tribute to a life well-lived and well-fed.
Rated PG-13 for salty language and one artful nude. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.
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