For some reason, I was really keen to see Eat, Pray, Love. Partly, it was the idea of tapping into my American cheesiness (Pasta! Romance! Julia Roberts!), and indulging my American habits (Sneaking snacks into the movie theater – yay! I never even go to the movies any more. I love going to the movies!).
Partly it was because I read the book early on and really loved it. Even though now that it’s been translated into a gazillion languages and Elizabeth Gilbert has become a hero to some and a villain to others, it’s sort of embarrassing to admit that I read this “spiritual” “chick-lit” book. But suck it, I did love it.
And partly it’s that I am playing the role of Liz Gilbert a little bit myself these days. I’m a single thirtysomething-year old woman experiencing life abroad. I find myself in dueling moments of immense joy and awe and deep self-pity and loneliness. One of my favorite things is eating. The other is traveling. I give thanks for my experiences, out loud and to my “gods”, and through it all, I am seeking meaning and love (and the best Italian joints in Paris).
So, oui, I was looking forward to the French release, and I was thrilled that Mel agreed to be my date. We snuck in beers and had Kleenex at the ready (cheesy Americans). The theater was, as expected, full, but it didn’t have the chittering excitement as when we went to see Sex and the City. And when we left??
Hmmm. Even less chittering. We weren’t really moved. There wasn’t a “feeling” in the air.
As expected, Eat Pray Love was created as a giant Hollywood blockbuster. We’re made to believe that fabulous homes and lifestyles are affordable. That women bond best in the fitting room, trying on jeans. That eyes do lock across crowded dancefloors, leading to trysts on the beach.
And of course that is what I wanted, to some extent. To be entertained and lost in someone else’s magical, anything-is-possible world. But more important, I wanted to believe. And that’s where the movie failed.
The book is laden with universal truths, which is why it was such a phenomenal best-seller. Self-discovery is a wonderful journey, even if it’s in your own backyard, and not the far-flung beautiful beaches of Bali. But the movie focused on these backdrops—and the Julia Roberts close-ups, and the men—more than the internal epiphanies.
Liz Gilbert went through some pretty dark moments and many beautiful experiences. She struggled and reflected and came out a stronger person, more true to her real self than when she was in an unfulfilling marriage. But Julia Roberts’s quivering lips and crocodile tears, and the panoramic shots of Roman ruins and Balinese rice fields, seemed to sell the feeling and meaning of these moments short.
In the end, it was pretty much what I was expecting. There were many annoying glossy Hollywood scenes, constructed to make us drool and sigh (but which just made me roll my eyes). But it also had a few truly beautiful moments, where it's possible to recognize our own feelings of alienation and inadequacy, our own hopes and quest for a more meaningful life, and our own glee when a plate of pasta is placed in front of us.