Friday, August 13, 2010

"Eat Pray Love:" My word is...Disappointing.

I caught an early screening of "Eat Pray Love," the highly-hyped Julia Roberts movie based on the Liz Gilbert book.  I have no interest in reading it, actually, but am eager for any flick that might be an antidote to this summer's Seattle overcast.

In one early scene, while Julia and friends are scarfing Italian food, each chooses "her" word, a singularly capsulizing descriptor.  London was "stuffy," Rome was "sex" and the Liz Gilbert character was stumped.  After the screening, I turned to my husband:  "MY word is...disappointing."

I wanted to go out of the theater feeling uplifted; instead I came out confused.  Here's the movie I saw:

The protagonist throws away marriage to an adoring husband and the city life because she's vaguely unsatisfied, and attempts to regain sensuality, spirituality and personal connection by escaping for a year to three locales, one specializing in each.  The Rome segment is filled with closeups of squirting melted cheese, mounds of spaghetti, and Roberts' cheerily munching maw.  The segment at an Indian ashram shows her sitting--in a garden, in a group mumbling prayers to the photo of their female guru, under the gruff mentoring of an older guy whose previous work-focus caused his family to decamp. And the final segment, in Bali, has her the scribe of a local palm-reader and patient of a folk-medicine woman--where  Gilbert ultimately hooks up with a Brazilian (turned Australian) ex-pat (Javier Bardem, Oscar winner for "No Country for Old Men").

The scenery and cinematography are outstanding, but I'd hoped for more than a travelogue. In fact, it's really not even that; just some scenic interspersed shots.  We hear Liz is a writer, but we really don't see her writing.  None of the significant others ever seem to spend time making money, either.  We learn nothing of her blood-family, but somehow within four months, the people she meets in each stop coalesce into her new "families."

As a psychologist who's spent years working with marriages in trouble, one of the most frustrating situations is when a spouse "cuts and runs," usually to somebody new.  Here, Liz Gilbert rebuffs her husband, who loves her and is willing to breach any rift.  During the course of the film, flashbacks to her wedding, as well as her own statements, confirm that the marriage was as much her choice as her partner's, and began sincerely only a few years before.

Yes, it would have been far worse if Liz Gilbert had taken flight on a spouse and children.  But under any circumstances, "unhappy" (fixable!) ennui is just not a good reason for a divorce. It's made even worse because in the only emotional prayer we see, pre-exit, Gilbert asks God to tell her what to do! The Gilbert character then leaps into an affair with a younger man; she quickly connects with guys in Italy, at the Ashram and finally in Bali.  One gets the impression that if the protagonist were not Julia Roberts, but instead a very plain-looking woman, the title might have instead been "Eat Pray...Pray."

Then again, even the prayer is hard to understand; for little reason we can see, Gilbert becomes Hindu, even buying a metal icon of the Elephant-god Ganesha at an idol-store.  We don't know why she chooses Rome as food-central, either.  And though there's mention that she'd connected with the Balinese palm-reader years before, her quick integration there into the local ex-patriot party-scene, where she meets her lover, doesn't follow, given her new ashram-spawned serenity.

Maybe it's assumed I've read the book, and all these disjointed segments and unanswered questions were covered there.  But a film must be judged on its own merits, and this one has some--serviceable but not stellar acting, a few lovely settings, a handful of well-done moments--as well as yawning flaws.


  1. It seems as though you are incorporating your husband's negative and skewed outlook on virtually everything. It is a shame. IT'S A MOVIE. Quit trying to read so much into a movie.

  2. I hated the way it pointed people to Hinduism, and yesterday I saw her(Julia Roberts) on TV admitting she's a Hindu and has been for years. Seems so incongruent, following a religion that has the social effects that Hinduism does, and did, even in the movie (forced marriage, dirty unhygienic living, etc). But that's how people are I guess, picking and choosing from the religions as if at a smorgaboard. She sure looked pretty in this film, though, didn't she? And could do a roundly good job crying even fully Botoxed up!

  3. Scott: I select movies I'm predisposed to like, so I do like most I see--check out my review of Toy Story 2, a few posts below.

    Faith, I actually found the part of the film that discussed "Pray" to be vacuous regarding beliefs or directions, a flaw in the film, but meant to avoid offending anyone, I'm sure. I have trouble understanding intelligent people embracing a system of castes and worshipping gods that are strangely-shaped animals. (I'm sure some folk might say similar things about my religion, of course.) But Hinduism in this film is portrayed as praying to the picture of a guru, and the notion that god is "inside you," which I'm not sure is an accurate representation.