August 13, 2010
Review - " Eat, Pray, Love " - (in theaters) By Roland Hansen
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In Italy, she eats and generally indulges herself. She's shedding the weight of societal burdens, and she's going to enjoy
herself. If she balloons up and has to wear size 6 jeans, that's just a risk she's willing to take.
In India, she prays. Well, she meditates actually, and that only just barely. She struggles with not being able to focus her
mind, running wild with inanities as it is, and ultimately learns a few of the bumper sticker truths of life that everyone else
already knew anyway. She is carried away somehow on the modes of thought, without much care for where any mode ought
best be aimed.
In Bali she hopes to learn some balance between the physical and the spiritual sides of life, and meets a man.
In the end, she discovers, as most everyone who has ever taken such a journey, that she could have accomplished the
exact same thing without going anywhere. This is hardly surprising considering that what she has accomplished is difficult to
distinguish from a middle-aged, wealthy ass of a man buying himself a new Lamborghini, going on a bender, and finding a
new girlfriend. Just because your personal Lamborghini is a three-month stay in an Indian ashram doesn't make it more
"I feel unfulfilled with my life, and am going to do something really stupid in the hopes that it will make life meaningful for me
somehow," doesn't become an interesting tale just because you fill in the blanks in ways that are somehow socially
acceptable; and avoiding being a person for a year isn't how you become one.
While Eat Pray Love is generally faithful to Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir, critics say the film cut most of the book's
"self-realization lessons" to make time for more shots of Julia Roberts eating and loving her way through sun-bathed locales.
Not having read the book I can't really say but judging from the comment I heard coming out of the theater from women who
had read the book, the movie just doesn't hold up to the written word.
Gilbert's voice is preserved through "extensive voice-over," which director Ryan Murphy may rely on too heavily - one
reviewer wonders if he, "doesn't trust himself enough to dramatize Liz's emotional journey or he doesn't trust Roberts to
reveal her character's feelings through gesture and expression."
The movie rushes through the explanation of why Gilbert decides to leave her husband (played Billy Crudup) and then her
younger post-separation boyfriend (James Franco), so "it's difficult to understand what she's running from, or even toward,"
when she sets off on her journey to Italy, India, and Bali. Though the film doesn't really capture the emotion and honesty that
drew readers to Gilbert's story of self-discovery, it still provides something that's all too rare - "a movie that takes seriously
(or for that matter has fun with) a woman's autonomy, her creativity, her desire for something other than a mate."
"Eat Pray Love" is, like its central character, on a genuine quest. It's about something important, the search for meaning and
happiness, about finding one's inner life amid the clutter and confusion of modern existence.
It's the story of a successful writer (Roberts) who finds herself in her mid-thirties feeling lost and without direction. She ends
her marriage to her sweet but hapless husband and, after the obligatory affair with a sensitive young hunk, she decides to
renew herself through travel. First she'll go to Italy and enjoy good food. Then to India, to pray in an ashram. And then to
Bali, to find love.
There's an irony here that the movie can't
acknowledge without imploding the whole
enterprise. Much of the message of "Eat Pray
Love" is that people - success-driven Americans
, in particular - need to kick back, enjoy
themselves and let life in, just let things
happen. But Gilbert's spiritual journey may
be the most programmatic in history, with
realizations and discoveries planned in
advance, from a desk in New York City. Thinly
veiled in Eastern robes, "Eat Pray Love" is
the ultimate American success story, in which
every warm human contact becomes grist for
That we can push these dark thoughts aside
is largely due to Julia Roberts, who has never
seemed so relaxed and at home with herself.
She doesn't push, has no underlying sense of
aggrievement. She is, instead, a nice travel partner, easy to take over a long, long trip, and we believe, at all times, that
she's searching for happiness and not merely filling out a pre-packaged best-seller.
At times, "Eat Pray Love" feels like Travel 101. When the Italians tell Liz, for example, about the Italian art of "La dolce far
niente" - the sweetness of doing nothing - that's something you can hear five minutes into any travel video. Still, the movie
conveys a genuine feel for the mood and the sights of the city, and in the end, it does for Rome what Frances Mayes (Under
the Tuscan Sun) did for Tuscany.
"Eat Pray Love" has three challenges it never completely overcomes. The first is that leaving Rome is never a good idea.
The second is that much of the movie is about the spirit, but you can't make drama out of someone meditating. The third is
that, for all its length and ambition, the film's spiritual insight is superficial. Liz's journey toward self-acceptance arguably
borders on narcissism. Perhaps not accepting herself might have been a more enlightened first step.
For all these reasons, the India section sags woefully. The entire ashram experience felt fake, like it was more of a scam
than a spiritual and religious awakening it is meant to be. Everyone sits around chanting and praying to a picture of "The
Guru". Does she even exist? But then, things pick up in Bali, with the arrival of Javier Bardem, who's just more manly and
elemental than Franco and Crudup, definitely more suited to Roberts, who looks like she could eat those other guys alive.
"Pray" is rough going, ideal for a bathroom break or a soul-renewing trance. But "Eat" and "Love" are cinema friendly.
The final section in Bali is the most traditional - a woman travels to an exotic location, meets an exotically handsome man
(Javier Bardem), falls in love - and also the best executed, maybe because all the spirituality of India and hedonism of Italy
were harder to translate to the screen. Still, as fun as it is to watch Roberts and Bardem roll around in the sheets and marvel
at Bali's exquisite beauty, the real-life Gilbert is once again let down. Her romance with Brazilian Felipe is left deliberately
uncertain in the book, written by a woman burned by divorce who has just learned to live for herself again. Movie Gilbert
says heated but vague things about not needing to love someone else to prove that she loves herself, but just in time for
closing shot she's clambering onto a boat with her love and quite literally riding off into the sunset. It's an immense
cop-out, but not surprising given the two and a half hours of platitudes and incredibly simple "tough decisions" that have
come before it.
Eat Pray Love
Directed by: Ryan Murphy.
Starring: Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, Viola Davis, Richard Jenkins, Javier
Liz Gilbert is a self-centered, shallow woman going through a mid-life crisis
as only the real success stories of our self-centered, shallow society with
nothing like a "real" problem to occupy their mind can.
Liz's plate is overflowing with Herculian hardships, and she quite
understandably finds herself in the depths of despair. She has a loving, if
somewhat flaky, husband of eight years. Her career as a travel writer is
going quite well, and finds her being paid to jet off to places like Bali with
some regularity. She has a nice place in New York, and doesn't seem
remotely concerned with how she's going to get the mortgage payment
together. She's also rather attractive. It's the sort of story that might have
led to a person turning to drugs or alcohol, and might leave listeners
thinking to themselves, "well, fair enough."
Mustering up the tremendous courage it takes to walk out of a marriage
(after all, being unhappy in your marriage isn't the sort of thing you would
let your spouse in on), Liz starts up a relationship with a younger man. She
then decides to leave him as well, and spend a year visiting Italy, India, and
Bali. You'd be inclined to call this a vacation, but the term implies that a
book company hasn't fronted you the money to cover your year as an
advance on the book you're going to write. There's something inherent in a
vacation that suggests you're losing money on the deal.
The problem for me with the film is that it
feels too superficial. What is lacking here
is the layers to each character and its
heart. Heart is very difficult to describe and
harder to accomplish. It's like lightning in a
bottle. You feel for them. You are on
their side. You want them to succeed. Here
in Eat Pray Love you don't feel that heart. I
don't know if it's Julia (who I liked) but you
never really care about what happens to
Liz. That's a big problem.
It's not that I disliked the film, I had a fine
time, it just didn't move me the way I
expected or hoped.