TIFF 2021: ‘Julia’ is Comfort Food for the Soul

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Julia - But Why Tho

Julia Child is a figure that needs no introduction, but that doesn’t stop Julia from taking viewers through a delicious menu of highlights of the icon’s extraordinary life. Julia endeavors to showcase Julia Child not just as a pioneer for women in business and as a legendary figure in food culture, but as a woman ahead of her time and with an unflappable zest for life. As far as portraits go, Julia is a delight.

Julia is the labor of love of Oscar-nominated documentary directors Julie Cohen and Betsy West (RBG). The documentary is comprised of interviews and television recordings of Child, personal letters from throughout her life, and discussions with Child’s friends, family, and fans. Cohen and West frame Child between her two great loves: cooking and her husband, Paul Child. This intentional structure allows viewers to appreciate Child’s biography as a cultural icon, but to know her more personally as a magnetic force of nature that profoundly touched the lives of all who knew her.

The documentary follows Julia’s life from her early years as a privileged young woman set on an expected path, through every defiant chapter of her endless ambitions. Julia Child would unseat every expectation of American women by traveling abroad, joining the war effort, and becoming an American television celebrity in her fifties. Child was notably outspoken on women’s issues, in a time when it was possibly detrimental to her career to do so. Julia could easily have been a multi-episode series, as its subject contained multitudes, but Cohen and West offer a restrained, tight edit that never skimps on the juicy bits.

Beyond capturing the events of her life and the bold flavors of her personality, the documentary is notable for daring to summarize Child’s essence. Child was a person who unapologetically wanted more. She wanted passion and adventure and a better future and good food! The appeal of Julia Child was that she was a person who enthusiastically embraced the decadence of life and invited everyone that came into contact with her to do the same. This is the essence of who she was and the legacy she left behind. The triumph of Julia is that Cohen and West were able to communicate this clearly, just by allowing the audience to know her for a little while.

Julia is a multi-course feast that tantalizes viewers with the tastiest morsels of Julia Child’s incredible life. Just as Child was a light that drew in generations of fans and viewers, Cohen and West allow her to burn bright as carefully woven threads about the times, the culture, and her legacy swirl around her. The documentary competently sets the scene of space, place, and politics, but ultimately tells the story of how Child’s passion changed the world. As warm and intimate as it is inspirational, Julia has been a highlight of this year’s TIFF programming.

Julia screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.

TL;DR

Julia is a multi-course feast that tantalizes viewers with the tastiest morsels of Julia Child’s incredible life. Just as Child was a light that drew in generations of fans and viewers, Cohen and West allow her to burn bright as carefully woven threads about the times, the culture, and her legacy swirl around her.