Here is a celebratory documentary that takes for granted throughout that its audience is already hugely invested in its subject: [object Window]. She is sufficiently legendary in the United States to have rated a biopic impersonation by Meryl Streep in the 2009 film Julie & Julia and also by Britain’s Sarah Lancashire in the recent HBO TV series Julia (alongside an otherwise largely American cast). Added to which, Dan Aykroyd once did a Julia Child sketch on Saturday Night Live and David Cross in the TV comedy Arrested Development did a whooping Julia Child voice when he dressed up as a Mrs Doubtfire nanny.
As for this documentary, it’s a professionally made film with reasonable things to say about the birth of TV celebrity chef culture, challenging male dominance in the professional kitchen and Child’s role in promoting the pre-eminence of French cuisine among America’s emerging food-literate middle classes. But just as with that Meryl Streep movie, I found myself restless at the parochiality of this American icon, although the film does briefly ponder the French public’s lack of interest in her.
So why exactly should anyone outside the US care about Child? Do we expect American audiences to be fascinated by documentaries about Fanny Cradock? As far as UK audiences are concerned … well, why not a documentary about a Canadian TV chef? Or a Bulgarian TV chef? Or a Japanese TV chef? Por supuesto, the American children’s TV presenter Fred Rogers – glimpsed here – was also not much known in the UK, and the Tom Hanks film from 2019 about him, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood went over well. But that had a story to tell that reached out beyond the fanbase. And without that initial fanbase buy-in, Julia feels like a redundant tribute, with something very indulgent about the “foodie” rhapsodising.