She is an interesting writer, for sure, and many women have been inspired by her quest for self-fulfillment through travel. But let’s think of it this way and imagine that the author/character was not a woman: If this was a man who divorced his wife because he was bored and didn’t want to have children, immediately moved on to an affair with a younger woman (an actress at that) and then got so depressed that he decided to travel the world with an ample amount of money in his bank account (because his editor just happens to love the idea) so he can wine and dine, learn to meditate and meet more women, I’ll be honest, I’d be at his throat.
Yes, for sure, women have the right to be as crass and selfish as men do; however, it seriously escapes me how this book became the mantra for a generation of modern women. And no, not everyone gets to go to Bali to find their dream guy.
Adapted to the big screen by writers Jennifer Salt and Ryan Murphy -- who also directs the film and was the creator of the wonderful teen hit TV show “Glee” -- “Eat Pray Love” stars Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert’s avatar.
While the book can get away with the format of a loose travelogue slice of Gilbert’s biography, the movie unfortunately remains the same and does not offer a decent storyline that justifies 133 minutes worth of Julia Roberts questioning her existence and her love life.
So, Elizabeth (Roberts) is a New Yorker travel writer with a loving husband, Stephen (Billy Crudup). It turns out that after eight years together they learn that they’ve got irrevocable differences in life expectations -- he wants to settle down for a quiet life, she wants pizzazz and to travel more. Stephen, here, is portrayed as a dimwit and any woman would want to dump him. It’s seems a bit unfair on the character, really. Elizabeth, heartbroken and depressed, meets a younger man David (James Franco) -- an incredibly good-looking actor who is performing in one of her plays. She becomes infatuated and starts devoting herself to him, before realizing that he is just an emotionally unavailable hipster. What does our gal do? She decides that she has to learn to be alone, solve all her emotional problems and discover who she really is.
So she decides to travel to Italy to devour food, then to India to meditate at an ashram and finally to Bali to find balance! So we, as the passive audience, believe that we’re also seeing these places, since they’re all shot like they’ve been commissioned by tourism companies. Unfortunately, not all of us can afford such wonderful travels to get our act together, but I guess when you’re one lucky American, there’s nothing in the world you can’t do.
Might I add, that despite the book and movie’s notable efforts to stay away from the big no-no of orientalism, it still falls prey to it because the root of the story is itself nothing but a Western dream of escaping a hectic yet comforting reality for pleasure, while exploiting the positive aspects of a foreign country and never having to deal with the negative, i.e., poverty. That’s the thing about the kind of travel portrayed in the film, you don’t have to worry about the difficult realities, since you can always go back home. Towards the end of the film, Elizabeth gathers money to help a socially outcast Balinese medicine woman buy a house. One doesn’t know whether to congratulate her generosity or to be appalled by the condescending charity. I suppose we would have to ask that to the Balinese woman in question.
Of course by the end of the film, like all Western ventures focusing on one accomplishment or the other -- in this case the mission is mental well-being -- Elizabeth finds the solutions to most of her emotional problems and learns to accept herself, with the help of the very, very nice people (there isn’t one nasty person in the film) she meets along the way.
It’s a modern fairytale really. Who doesn’t want to meet a handsome, loving well-off Brazilian man who looks like Javier Bardem and have their career take off astronomically while eating pizza, meditating and riding a bicycle? I miss the days when Julia Roberts was playing characters like Erin Brokovich, who was one tough, proud but poor woman, who worked day and night to feed her children and wasn’t troubled at all about who she was.
“Eat Pray Love” offers the kind of escapism that it decorates itself with -- far off and removed from convincing reality.