Eat Pray Love

by Melissa Silverstein on August 13, 2010

in Reviews,Women Writers

Elizabeth Gilbert was miserable.  She crashed out of her marriage, careened into another relationship way too quickly and was just overwhelmed and seriously fucked up.  She needed a change — not just a haircut or new clothes — a fundamental change to everything she knew.

Not many people have the guts and the money to make such a fundamental change.  Smart girl that Gilbert is she sold a book proposal which allowed her to travel the world for a year to get her shit together.  Out of that journey came the best selling book Eat Pray Love.  If I was her publisher I would think that her advance was the best investment EVER.

Detractors of the book and now the movie starring Julie Roberts as Liz Gilbert which opens today, complain that she comes off as self-centered and privileged.  What right does she have to go away for a year and on someone else’s dime no less.

I for one say power to her.

The film takes us on Liz’ journey through the food of Italy, the prayers of India and the gorgeous blue skies of Indonesia.  The Bali scenes made my mouth water even more than the pasta of Italy especially when Javier Bardem entered the film as her lover (and now husband.)

The problem for me with the film is that it feels too superficial.  Ryan Murphy who directed and co-wrote the script (with Jennifer Salt, daughter of blacklisted writer Waldo Salt) is known now for his huge TV hit Glee.  What Glee accomplishes so well (and 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.  Glee has it.  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) or Murphy but you never really care about what happens to Liz.  That’s a big problem.

I know (and write about) the lack of films that tell stories about women, our lives, our concerns and our fears.  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.  On the other hand, this movie is leagues above Sex and the City 2 so those who were put off by that film and the reviews should feel comfortable plunking their $10 or $12 bucks down for this.

I come back again to the point I made earlier this summer when I wrote about Sex and the City 2 about how gay men have been anointed by Hollywood as the purveyors of women’s stories.   I renew my concern about this trend especially since Julia Roberts and Ryan Murphy are making another movie together cause they had a great time making Eat Pray Love.  Good for them.

Personally, I want female stars with clout to use it get women some gigs working for the studios when appropriate.  Eat Pray Love should have — and could have– been one of those occasions.  Maybe then my  reaction to the film would have been something other than – so what.

That being said I hope and pray that the movie makes tons of money this weekend.  We’ll see on Monday if Julia has more juice than Sylvester Stallone in The Expendables which looks to be a reunion of everyone Stallone fought in the Rocky films with a little Bruce Willis thrown in, and the comic book geek fest, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

JihadPunk77 August 13, 2010 at 11:53 AM

I’ve also heard bad buzz about this movie, which is such a disappointment. Julia Roberts is A-list, can’t she get some decent material with a well written script?

I think Scott Pilgrim vs the World will rule the box office this weekend.

avb August 13, 2010 at 12:35 PM

I agree some of the reason this movie doesn’t delve deeply is because women are not allowed/able to tell the stories of themselves as deeply as they should in a studio movie. Movies are forcibly dumbed-down in the process. That said, I wonder what earlier, unapproved-by-the-studio drafts of this movie read like.

Sometimes it’s better do it indie to get your point made and leave your material un-compromised.

Chris Evans August 13, 2010 at 12:44 PM

Maybe the problem is the fact that Ryan Murphy is a hack.

Linn D. August 13, 2010 at 12:54 PM

Living in LA, I had the opportunity to read an early draft of this movie while it was making the rounds. (note: I have not read the book version) And my impression was the biggest challenge was the book is all about what she is thinking, and that does NOT lend itself to film. Because film is a visual medium. You can’t “hear” someone’s thoughts. You cannot always “see” what someone is truly thinking. You can imply, but it’s generalized at best (she looks sad, she looks angry). So at the time I wondered how in the world was the writer going to transfer what worked in the book without having a TON of voiceover. (which can often wear out its welcome) I think this is less about a male writer/director who happens to be gay, and more the challenge that some books do not lend themselves to becoming films. They are too intellectual and “in the head,” and ultimately do not transfer well…

grrljock August 13, 2010 at 3:04 PM

Pet peeve alert:
“…The film takes us on Liz’ journey through the food of Italy, the prayers of India and the gorgeous blue skies of Bali…”

To have a parallel construction of that sentence, can you please substitute “Indonesia” for “Bali”? Bali is but one island (though probably the most famous) of the 13,000+ islands of Indonesia. As an Indonesian, I’m happy with slowly receding ignorance about my country (there’s been a spate of articles about it in NY Times), and yet too many people are unaware that Bali is part of Indonesia.

Thanks!

Lee August 13, 2010 at 4:06 PM

I haven’t seen Eat Pray Love yet, but I plan to because of the subject. I was very disappointed with Ryan Murphy’s direction of “Running with Scissors”, although it was a wonderful cast. There is something off about the way he directs actors and he takes work that is quite deep and makes it superficial.

I’m sure there are a number of female directors would have been better. I love that women can’t even get a directing job telling a story about finding yourself as a woman. I have a script that they keep trying to get me to hand over to a male director…because of course a guy can do it. I have to say no every single day!

DestryRidesAgain August 13, 2010 at 5:29 PM

Yes, studios, please let women tell women’s stories AT THE VERY LEAST!

We can, of course, tell plenty of other stories, too.

DestryRidesAgain August 13, 2010 at 5:31 PM

P.S. I’m going to buy a ticket for this film no matter what. If it does well, at least they can’t tell us that women-centered films don’t bring in an audience!

Sally August 14, 2010 at 1:03 AM

Not many movies, male or female are really dense with internal transformation. I have to say, when I watched Julia and Julia, I got to where I didn’t care so much for the younger Julia’s story. There’s something about how it was acted and presented that didn’t draw me into caring about her. I can get this criticism here. Sometimes there is something that you know should happen, but the mystery of it not having the pow it could have.

But I’m cheering this on on it’s level and this is really cheap, but my life is so dense that I could use a happy ending and beautiful scenery and a woman pursuing a life of her own.

I’m hating, though, the criticism by especially women that seems to boil down to “who do she think she is?” Hating the white woman. Hating a woman who leaves a perfectly good man. Hating a financially secure woman who gets to go on a year long trip. Hating a woman without family obligations. Truly, you never get to see that on film, because women have to be weighed down with kids, obligations, etc, and only men get to go on that post-young adulthood journey of finding themselves. It is true that sometime after the glitter hopes of young twenties of marriage (for many) and launching a life, you wonder whose script you are living. I’ve seen some British films that deal with older women finding themselves later in life, but I can’t think of a similar American example. I’m sure it will come to me. I did like Waiting to Exhale – but still that one was about the drama of finding the right man and it was about a group of women – and it seems like this movie is probably about more than finding a man – actual dialogue NOT about finding a date, finding a man, ending in a baby and marriage: and/or. It’s as if women are simple creatures with only one interesting thing to drive a plot: find a husband, find a baby. Something else drives the plot here it seems. And she is not a detective or a district attorney. And despite all of this she is allowed to have sex. With several men. It’s 2010, but when do you get to see that in a plot?

I swear I hope everyone here calls out the criticism on other sites around “who do she think she is.” That is not film criticism, it’s martyrs, along the lines of “gee, I wish I didn’t have kids and had all this time to find myself…who do she think she is?” “gee, I’m in debt and struggling, it’s just like a white privleged woman to be able to endulge, it’s a slap in my face!” Come on now. Who said that for “When Stella Got Her Groove Back?”

Women even in their imaginations can’t allow themselves to be free or have a lighter life. Men all the time see fantasies (Expendables) where the men aren’t weighted down with cares of family and money, haggard with responsiblity. On the contrary, the chubby shlub gets the best and can even be irresponsible and be lovable. But it’s a feminist issue on the inside of women that some react so strongly to even seeing fiction where women get a rewarding life without haggardness and I can’t wait until the chubby shlub woman gets the man and has lots of sex, wins the job, and is the witty hero at the end. It’s storytelling for a reason, people: set yourself free enough to imagine even a movie where you are cut a break.

On another note, in real life, I could never yet get into Gilbert. I never read the books, although I picked it up – never engaged me, and maybe someday I’ll read it and really fall into it. And I “pray” that her new husband doesn’t take her for a ride, because the back story is that he is “bad” with money and she subsidizes him a lot. I hope she is not being taken advantaged of, but hey, look at Kelsey Grammer these days. Or don’t.

a detractor August 14, 2010 at 9:15 AM

As a woman artist who has traveled the world, I am not one of your detractors who thinks she ought not travel. I actually have not encountered a single detractor that fits your narrow description.

I find the writers brand of preaching off putting. People who have lived their life the way she has just begun to glimpse it, may find her little phase annoying. And maybe it’s not a phase? But for those who are committed to the cause, any cause, when a person suddenly discovers the cause and then acts like they invented it, well, those in the trenches kind of laugh or get irked, ya’ know? Especially when one person makes a shit load of money doing what others sacrificed security for.
Many artists who listen to her born again artist talks, either breathe and sigh through, waiting for her to finish her masterbatory speech, or they get annoyed.
She is like the Columbus of a life style…Claiming discovering on something that has always been here.
I suppose the bright side of it is that she has shown how someone who was not born in that 10% who are artists, mystics and visionaries (there is one in every family aka black sheep) can develop into an artist, mystic, visionary. I hope she speaks to the commitment it requires…that it is not about a feeling of security, but exactly the opposite.

As for Roberts detractors,
believe it or not, a lot of women who enjoy films aren’t fans of Roberts at all. Some of us will avoid just about any film she is in.

Sally August 14, 2010 at 12:16 PM

As to the detractors, go look at comments about the movie.
The least offensive from Jezebel – my daily read:

“I like watching pretty things, but I’m a broke-ass College student living at home and off financial aid. It doesn’t speak to me at all. I can barely afford a movie ticket let alone a trip of self-discovery. ”

Set yourself at least free in your imagination, honey.

There was one newspaper’s review – trying to find it – where there were a team of mothers double teaming the theme of “gee, I wish I were priviledged childfree woman -but I have a thousand burdens.” And not in a good way. It struck me you don’t see men ragging on james bond for having a fabulous life, saying “gee, I wish I could be a globe trotting hottie, who do he think he is?”

“augh, this book is so fucking vulgar and offensive. it’d be one thing if she could write worth a good goddamn, but it’s just the smug, half-literate blog-babbling of a privileged lady-who-lunches, whining about her privileged childhood and refusing to be comforted by her privileges. that someone printed out and shilled to morons. ”
OK. Stop yourself from laughing, ‘A Detractor.’ OK. That one was funny, I’ll give you that.

“Might have helped to have a WOMAN direct this movie. Where’s Nora Ephron when you need her? ”

OK. Stop yourself ‘A Detractor’ from dying of laughter. I think Nora has her roadhouse, but a deeper movie is not one of them.

Sally August 14, 2010 at 7:30 PM

Ok. Saw the movie. Thought it was great. There are some details run over. But I think you have to start with the notion that the character Julia plays (and I’m taking it as a story, not nonfiction), deserves to find her own meaning in life. Now, in the first half of the movie, some may say it doesn’t go into enough why she feels compelled to launch off. But she doesn’t know either. Except that she is faking a life, and like her husband, waiting for something. We get the voices of criticism from friends and her husband. Inside of her, it’s a mystery. So I don’t think we can expect the film to lay out what the narrator doesn’t know.

But how dangerous to say that you should not be faking it in life and that you deserve some passion and enjoyment. Many people she encounters ask her why she is not married. And I have to say, if the world criticizes Americans on defining themselves on what they “do”, then we have to criticize those that say women are defined when they marry. And the question of love and passion and not faking it is a big thing to confront for women who are rewarded for being an act, a drag act. Julia Roberts has taken on roles in Runaway Bride and Mona Lisa Smile taking on this thematic question. Even in Oceans 11 – the question of faking it and being safe versus that dangerous love.

Is it worth it making a movie about a woman who is not sick, not in poverty, not being beaten in a marriage, has a great kitchen and a pretty husband, yet decides her inner voice is at conflict with her life? Is it a critical dramatic question to ask, should women fake it until the man decides to stay or leave?

It’s an interesting approach that not all women in Liz’s situation are clinical. I mean, how many times do we reach for the Prozac or whatever the current version is – to say we are ADD, depressed, possibly bi-polar when we are just faking it? Not to say there are chemical imbalances in the body, but it’s refreshing to go back to the “quest” idea and that finding your meaning and learning to live is not always a disease.

It’s sad in the movie that the Liz character witnesses a passionless arranged marriage and she doesn’t rescue the poor girl from her life, riding her off in a car. Why does misery like this have to happen? I actually don’t get why foreign places can intervene in our lives, teaching us foreign lessons, but we can’t say to a girl, gee, I got married in a strangely mismatched, and tried to be the great wife and I finally left. If you don’t feel it and want to jump in, why do it? Liz’s economic independence lends her support in choosing, but women around the world aren’t quite there yet. She sends money to her healer in Bali to care for her as her family, and that is part of the answer between us all.

Melody August 15, 2010 at 1:32 AM

“It’s storytelling for a reason, people: set yourself free enough to imagine even a movie where you are cut a break.”

THANK YOU!

This is exactly why I really enjoyed this film. I also think the tagline is perfect: Let yourself GO. Eat Pray Love has a fundamental flaw of not directly introducing WHY Liz wants to end her marriage in the first place. Since that is the catalyst I think it is way more important to establish that early on than establishing her friendships and whatnot. But despite that, Eat Pray Love is female-driven escapist fantasy at its best. I fail to see how there’s anything wrong with that. Question: How in the world is this film any more loathsome than the male-driven, testosterone-fest fantasy that is The Expendables??

Men get guilt-free escapist fantasies all the damn time and no one bats an eye. No one calls them selfish whores. No one trolls the internet saying how much they hate them for having fast cars and sexy women. No one questions how the hero is able to pay for all those automatic rifles and where the hell he got a stick of dynamite from. Yeah, that thought’s in the back of your mind, but in a few more minutes something’s going to explode and you’ll forget you even thought that til it’s over. With male-centric fantasy films people just go with it. They accept it as the magic of the movies and they move onto other things that matter more, like the actors performance, the variety of shots used and the dialogue, for example. BUT! When it’s a woman without kids on her hip and an annoying nine-to-five getting to globe trot and meet cute men without it being explained into oblivion where she got the money from to do it and why she trusted these virtual strangers and blah blah blah – instead of saying how cool it is to see that kind of fantasy on the big screen, everybody grabs a glass and starts pouring up haterade. Is it really that impossible for us to let go of real life for just a couple of hours?

One of the biggest reasons I liked this movie was because of the scene in Naples *SPOILER ALERT* when Liz tells her lovely Swedish friend who feels guilty for eating that she needs to hang up the self-hating and eat the fucking pizza cause it’s delicious, you only live once and you can just buy a bigger pair of jeans and (OMG!) the whole world won’t collapse as a result. It was shocking to me at first to hear that cause as women a vast majority of us (especially in terms of body images) are conditioned to do exactly what the Swedish friend did – hate instead of appreciate. With big budget Hollywood films – how often do you see that kinda scene? I just can’t bring myself to dislike a movie with a message like that. Another similar scene *SPOILER AGAIN* had a line and I’m paraphrasing here, there’s nothing wrong with wanting affection – in relation to how Liz feels about getting it on with Felipe. However, I think anyone who disliked that part of the movie is someone who’s just jealous and bitter and needs to get laid themselves.

I hate to say it, but a lot of women (online might I add – cause as I left the theater I heard nothing but positive things from the real life women and men around me, ranging from how good they felt inside to how beautiful the locations were) right now are acting like crabs in a bucket towards this film – if we see one person rising, we have to pull them down as fast as we can. Stop feeding into this idea that women aren’t allowed to have ridiculous fantasies on film. Why? Cause it’s more satisfactory and ‘realistic’ to see a struggling college student or a sad stay-at-home mom? I would NEVER drop $10 to see that. Atleast Liz Gilbert tried to do some good as she traveled while giving her Indian friend peace of mind about her arranged marriage and getting her pals to donate money to the Balinese woman and her adorable daughter so they can build a permanent house. For reals – stop hating. Go see it, get comfy in your seat and take in all the glorious footage of food and Javier Bardem being cute and vulnerable. Turn your brain off and stop hatin’ on Liz.

chick August 15, 2010 at 2:30 PM

My favorite “chick flick” of the last 5 years was
the RUNAWAYS

rent it.

Sally August 15, 2010 at 2:45 PM

It’s unsettling and not reassuring to many that women can choose happiness without obligation. Ironically, when I saw EPL, they ran a trailer for the movie “Morning Glory.” Now, that looks to be a reassuring movie to those who hated EPL.

It’s got a young coltish uptight career-driven in that bad way (of course, this is the current type of romcoms) producer of a morning show trying to be a career girl, when the plot seems to be that she gives it up for love. Work is meaningless. Also bonus for the scenes in the trailer where she makes friends and defends the crusty old man – Harrison Ford, and takes down that uppity bitch Diane Keaton in comeupness. Also bonus for girlish scream and scene of her falling backwards on the couch with boyfriend with her ass in expensive lacy undies, while we get no like beefcake shot in the trailer. It’s a chick movie that is clear to say it’s made on guy sensibiities and they will get to see bitch bashing, woman hating, old crusty guy Ford – have you noticed that guys actually don’t have a problem with older guys than them being the hero – and winsome shots of the lead chick’s ass. And ultimately the chick is led to the truth that ya haveta choose between career and love. Loneliness and great success, or … you know, what women should do.

So it’s a “chick” movie that is reassuring to guys – you know, you get to see the accomplished uppity older career woman taken down and humiliated (licking a frog by command – I don’t even want to go Freudian on that wish fulfillment by men), and the older man is redeemed and the cutie girl “learns” at the end that nothing is more important than her love for her boyfriend – it is impossible to high powered at work and get laid on a regular basis if you are a chick. In fact the subtext is: if a woman is being laid properly, her ambition dissolves to being devoted to a man and baby life.

What a contrast to EPL, and shows what a rarity it is.

T August 15, 2010 at 6:35 PM

Sally, you can travel, be influenced and influence those around you. To appropriate someone else’s culture can be offensive. What is even more offensive is attempting to adapt others to your American values and cultural ways, as if it is the only good way to live.

Travel light.

sally August 15, 2010 at 11:41 PM

T, it’s not the case that all culture is just a thang, diverse and harmless like spices grown around the world. If someone is not supported in being free to follow their heart and women are not equal, that is not an American issue, it’s a human issue.

It’s a meme to go to Indian and discover as an American that you’re ignorant compared to the wise foreigners. However, if a young girl does not want to be married, does not love the boy she is marrying and doubts the custom, it looks like a problem of following your own path there, which the ignorant American could say something about, having lived a similar road before. After all, everyone native and wise kept asking her where her heart was and who she loved. Oddly, that didn’t apply to the less than thrilled arranged couple. Also, the cultural thang of them shunning the divorced woman in Bali and not even giving her ‘natual’ rights to her kids after divorce – and her having the history of moving from town to town due to harassment now that’s a cultural thang this ignorant traveler would protest.

There are all sorts of feminist women in the US supporting the movements of cultural change in other countries. Travel can encourage you to get more involved in the real and creating a more just world.

You know, like the French invested and supported this strange experiment of the US a long time ago.

Jackie August 15, 2010 at 11:46 PM

T – Go you!

Melissa, I would like to invite you to guest post on http://www.pinkpangea.com about your travels.

I look forward to hearing more about your experiences abroad!

Hope to hear from you soon,

Jaclyn
Jaclyn@pinkpangea.com

Bevin August 16, 2010 at 6:31 AM

I saw this movie with my mom and my sister on Saturday and all three of us felt conflicted about it. For me, it just failed to engage me as emotionally as I would have liked– it felt very surface-level pretty without anything really substantial underneath to spark a connection. Also, the cinematographer needed to stop backlighting Ms. Roberts so much. I get that she’s supposed to be attractive, but she’s Julia Roberts, I don’t need to be reminded that often, thanks. I strongly disliked the ending, but primarily because the first two-thirds of the film had real potential to do something different for a change, which I was very willing to accept with open arms.

As apathetic as I was on the film as a whole (and don’t get me wrong, there were parts I liked, but they were short segments or potential ideas that never got fleshed out very well), I think a lot of the critical reactions have disappointed me the most. Not because so many people felt the movie didn’t work, but because I kept seeing the phrase “self-indulgent” listed everywhere. As if a movie about self-discovery based on a memoir was going to be anything else.

I guess, if nothing else, I could identify with her struggle to find herself because until my mid-twenties I was very aware of not knowing who I was as a person. I had a severe bout of clinical depression in my early twenties, brought in part because I didn’t know who I was, in part because I was deeply dissatisfied with my life and I didn’t know why. I felt like I had no reason to be unhappy and yet I was, and it made me feel worse. I also allowed myself to be put in situations I didn’t want to be in simply either for the sake of not ruffling anyone’s feathers or because I felt like I should. Logically I knew I shouldn’t let myself get guilted into going on dates I didn’t want to go on and things like that, but emotionally I felt enormous pressure to capitulate because I didn’t want to be a “bitch”.

I can empathize with Liz at the beginning of the film in that sense, because her realization that she didn’t really want to be there came after she’d already married the guy, and there’s no way to proceed from there that isn’t going to hurt someone. I appreciated that the film didn’t demonize any of the men in her life or attempt to fob the blame off onto them as a cheap justification. I think a lot of the people calling the character selfish missed that. It doesn’t paint her actions in a particularly rosy light, but at the same time, expecting her to stay in relationships that she isn’t happy in for the sake of not hurting these nice guys is pretty selfish, too. Sure she hurts them, but in the end isn’t it better to find someone who actually wants the same things you want instead of someone who’s just going through the motions out of guilt?

I think as moviegoers we’ve come to expect too much from the old cowboy movie motif where the protagonist was The Good Guy and the antagonist was The Bad Guy and you always knew which one was which and there was no conflict about who to root for at any given moment. We’ve gotten really accustomed to labeling people as either “good” or “bad” based on how noble we find them and we’ve forgotten that we’re all fallible and hurtful and selfish, too. Does it make us bad people? Maybe sometimes, but I also like to think it doesn’t exclude us from forgiveness, growth, and empathy. “The Philadelphia Story” has a line that nails it: “you’ll never be a first class human being until you learn to have a little regard for human frailty.” She makes mistakes and I didn’t think the film shied away from them. Granted, there could have been some vast improvements in how much of the film was handled, but I was really surprised and frankly miffed at how many people thought Liz was selfish for wanting to find herself and not just stick out bad relationship after bad relationship for the sake of making other people happy.

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