By Elias Savada.

The anecdotes and stories fly by with breathtaking glee, broken up by rare footage of the master at work. The directors keep the talking heads on target as diary entries explore her broadening excitement.”

Julia Child always left me smiling. And hungry.

She may have died 17 years ago, but she’s doing it again, courtesy of Julie Cohen and Betsy West, the team behind the Academy Award nominated and Emmy winning documentary RBG. They have crafted a delicious look at the television star, cookbook author, and cultural phenomenon who made your mouth water and stomach ache with glee. Their examination of the well-known celebrity, based on Bob Spitz’s book Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child and inspired by Alex Prud’homme’s My Life in France with Julia Child and The French Chef in America: Julia Child’s Second Act is pure first-rate fun. Prud’homme, Child’s grandnephew, and Spitz are among the film’s many executive producers.

Carla Gutierrez brightly edits together footage of the master with some re-created “specialty food shoots” — can you tell which chicken is fresher? — and the succulent photography by Claudia Raschke (with an assist in France by Nanda Fernandez Brédillard) is oh so scrumptious, whether it’s a pair of hands preparing a luscious dessert, a tantalizing crepe, or a perfectly cooked roast beef.

Yes, you’ll see Dan Aykroyd’s hilarious SNL impersonation of her, but Child was a larger-than-life figure in any medium, and she sure gets royal treatment here. The people who knew her, worked with her, and adored her (including friends and family) parade across the screen, intercut as Julia puts her trademark flair into food preparation. After pushing her way onto Boston television station WGBH for a book review show in 1962, viewers were immediately entranced by her outgoing style and delectable delivery. She was fearless.

New 'Julia' documentary shows Julia Child as a cultural trailblazer beyond  food

The facts are laid out in bare testimony. Born in Pasadena, California, Julia attended Smith College, graduating in 1934. After her mother died, she returned home to tend to her strict Republican father, who fully expected her to be a traditional upper middle-class housewife. We all know that didn’t happen. She became a Democrat. During World War II she became part of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the precursor to the CIA. Yes, she wanted to become a spy. A tall one. No, I’m not revealing state secrets. She didn’t become Jane Bond, but she did work with them. While she was stationed in Ceylon (now, Sri Lanka), she met Paul Child, her husband to be. While they were posted in China as the war entered its final days, he help stir her intellectual curiosity, and her tastebuds. Cue the rapturous slo-mo tossing of a vegetable dish. From her diary, “I am engulfed with pleasurable warmth and delight.”

The film captures very nicely Julia’s timeline as she broadens her culinary education. In Rouen, she fell in love with French cuisine. After watching Chef Danièle Delpeuch’s team prepare sole meunière in a very appetizing way, most viewers should realize the revelry that Julia was experiencing. Voila!

One taste of that food and Julie never turned back. And to get her foot in the door, she had to push her way through a stubborn culinary school tradition — that most chefs in France were male. The invasion by a tall American woman into a masculine club began with her storming of the old guard. The directors let us hear her voice as we visually feed on photos of her sampling her introduction into a true art form that is Le Cordon Bleu.

Wait, you’re saying, I’ve seen this before, haven’t I? Well, if you caught 2009’s Julie & Julia, it will definitely feel familiar. That Nora Ephron biopic featured Meryl Streep as the joyous cook. There’s no fictional element in the new documentary, but you get the same excitement because the subject is such a strong-willed character.

Her cooking show thankfully takes up a good portion of the film. Cohen and West know where to get the best bang with the copious material they have on hand.”

Of course, her fame didn’t arrive until she finished Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a painstaking project that took a dozen years to write with co-authors Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck. And then Houghton Mifflin, the publisher, told her that American housewives might be frightened by the formidable book. They turned her down, but a woman editor at publisher Alfred A. Knopf saw its potential. Yet, it wasn’t until Julia wrangled that cooking show — The French Chef —  with the same Boston station which she had used to sell her book, that it became a best-seller.

Her cooking show thankfully takes up a good portion of the film. Cohen and West know where to get the best bang with the copious material they have on hand. Julia was such an oversized, theatrical character, the few minutes you’ll spend with her in Julia will just whet your appetite for more. Public television had a new queen.

The film touches on her unflappable support for Planned Parenthood and rights for women (although her thoughts on homosexuality were, initially, not as liberating, until she eventually did fundraisers supporting the gay community). She bravely fought breast cancer, and then did battle with PBS when it turned its back on her as she neared 20 years as its crusader. “Maybe they don’t like food,” she joked in one of the interviews clipped for the film. At 75 years young, she wasn’t ready to be put out to pasture, so she got a job with ABC’s Good Morning America. She one-upped that at age 87, joining chef Jacques Pépin for a 22-part series. She was ageless.

The anecdotes and stories fly by with breathtaking glee, broken up by rare footage of the master at work. The directors keep the talking heads on target as diary entries explore her broadening excitement.

C’est magnifique!

Elias Savada is a movie copyright researcher, critic, craft beer geek, and avid genealogist based in Bethesda, Maryland. He helps program the Spooky Movie International Movie Film Festival, and previously reviewed for Film Threat and Nitrate Online. He is an executive producer of the horror film German Angst and the documentary Nuts! He co-authored, with David J. Skal, Dark Carnival: the Secret World of Tod Browning (a revised edition will be published by Centipede Press).

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