Friday, August 20, 2010

Squalor: Eat Pray Love

I wasn't looking forward to Eat Pray Love.  To tell the truth, the entire phenomenon has always sort of irked me.  I've never read Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling book.  Ask anyone and they'll tell you it's "just not my thing".  My suspicion, when it came to Gilbert and her global gallivanting, had always been that she was some sort of privileged, entitled white woman playing with cultural imperialism and throwing down preachy, self-righteously motivated affirmations.  If the movie gets it right, then my suspicions were correct...and worse: she's sort of a ridiculous, whiny human being who can't see past the end of her own nose to observe just how good she really has it.  My theory is that there's a really good reason why The Expendables trounced Eat Pray Love in the box office battle of the sexes (in which Scott Pilgrim became the maligned third party): after watching Julia Roberts wallow about in her misery in beautiful scenery, a good portion of the women in attendance walked out of the theater and immediately bought a ticket to watch mindless, bloody carnage.  That's not to say that Eat Pray Love is quite as bad as all that.  It has its bright spots and redeeming qualities, as do most middle of the road melodramas.  It's just...too bad the source material for our year long tour was already written by a true-life character who kind of annoyed the crap out of me.   

I know nothing about the real life Elizabeth Gilbert.  She may be perfectly nice.  In fact, I'm sure she's rather nice, since she seems to make perfectly nice friends everywhere she goes.  That doesn't mean she's not a raging, self-centered partial narcissist.  I mean, speaking from experience, it can take awhile for those tendencies to really surface.  Semi-fictional Liz Gilbert is a piece of work.  The premise of Eat Pray Love is driven by one woman's sort of quest for happiness and enlightenment.  When we enter the story, Liz is married to a rather immature man, is a published author a few times over (with a Pushcart Prize), and has a supportive network of friends.  The movie would have us believe that, working off of a reading of her life lines by a medicine man in Bali, Gilbert enters a prophesied slump.  Really, though, what we're shown is a woman who brings about her own miseries.  We watch her destroy her marriage.  Her basically abort her husband.  Her take up with a simply moronic navel-gazing 'actor' (James Franco).  Her lie on the floor of the navel-gazing actor's bedroom and cry because she perhaps realizes how absurd her quick change was.  The solution to all of this?  Well, though the prologue would have us believe she gets out a fair amount writing travel pieces (she did begin in Bali, after all), Liz Gilbert has some sort of meltdown in which she decides to (and apparently can afford to) take a desperately needed year off, lock her life in storage, and do a three-pronged trip to Italy, India, and Bali (1. Eat 2. Pray 3. Love).  You know, because this is a woman who never gets out and never does anything in her own best interest. 

What follows is chronicle of that year. First, Liz aimlessly wanders Italy mastering the "sweetness of nothing" and eating whole pizzas in Naples until we get the montage of her inability to button her pants.  Next, she bums around an Indian ashram manned by an imaginary guru where she becomes bitter about not getting to eat like in Italy and having to meditate instead of "doing nothing" (funny...).  Last, she bicycles smugly in Bali transcribing the secrets of her friend the medicine man while (from what I can tell) doing a lot of sitting around in absolutely gorgeous surroundings and sleeping with a sensitive tour guide who is here played by Javier Bardem.  Yeah.  Don't you feel bad for Liz Gilbert?  Aren't we all just so inspired?  The whole time, up until the very end when she's got something good going and has literally spent the past 10-11 months simply wandering, she's moaning and groaning about the things she "shouldn't do" and how hard life can be.  Right.  I'm sorry, but if I could drop my bland day job right now and take off for an entire year for no other purpose than to "do some self-reflecting", I'd basically be in heaven right now.  I doubt I'd be fretting about going on a little 2-day camping trip with my Bali boyfriend.  Seriously, in Bali, with nothing to do but occasionally meditate, this woman goes ballistic on Bardem's character because he has the gall to be like "hey, I like you, you like me, we're sleeping together like all the time, you want to go on my boat and go to this island I love and go camping? It's super great there".  No, the crazy comes in to Julia Roberts' eyes and she's like "no no no no, why would you ask me that? I just can't do these things...".   Anyone else confused?  Anyone?
Eat Pray Love, if the faults of its protagonist weren't enough, is also rather grueling in terms of pace.  I was doing alright through Italy...and then I realized we still had another two destinations to go.  Directed by Glee's Ryan Murphy, the film seems to be finding itself as much as Gilbert supposedly is.  It meanders and pauses too long on trifles.  There are a surplus of close-ups on the oddly shaped lips of Julia Roberts (honestly, who drew that mouth on her?).  It abridges the bits that are interesting and lingers in the emotional bits.  You know, because this is a movie for women (i say that sarcastically, of course), thus it must lean towards the tragedy and the tears.  The film is an odd anomaly; a travel piece that feels rather stagnant.  Eat Pray Love's stint in Rome feels like it goes on for the entire running time of La Dolce Vita (that's 3 hours), while offering absolutely none of its artistry and insight.  That's the thing, see?  The film is its title.  She eats, she prays, she loves.  These things (particularly that center one) do not a plot make.  The aforementioned plus side is that the movie is a lovely travelogue.  The scenery is lushly beautiful, inspiring the doubtful viewer to sit back and just take it all in anyhow.  It also features a tremendous amount of delicious looking food (do not watch on an empty stomach) and, in reality, though her character leans towards insipid, Roberts plays her convincingly.  There are little sparkles of personality and humor, though none of it is successfully carried through the remainder of the film.  Ultimately: the film's biggest offense is simply that it's bland.  We would have been better off with a movie called Eat, Love, as the praying is, perhaps predictably, the point at which the film becomes the most trying... but wait, we already got that movie this summer.  It was the staggeringly better I Am Love.   

1 comment:

  1. Hello,
    Excellent feed back. The star of the movie attracted a lot of enthusiastic movie goers especially women.this movie would be certified as a "chick flick". There were many memorable lines and moments in the movie as the protagonist ventures her way around the world meeting interesting people and going to intriguing places.



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