Project Valentine, Day 20: Eat Pray Love

2/20/2011

Alternate titles for Eat Pray Love:  Eyeroll Snooze Snore.  Eat Pray Loathe.  Around the World in 80 Guys.

You know, as I reach the end of Ugh, Let's Watch Julia Roberts, I realize that I may have estimated her unfairly.  The kinds of movies that she appears in made me think that she was trying to play romantic heroines, but maybe her goal was something different all along.  Eat Pray Love, along with Something to Talk About and Notting Hill shows that J.Ro. is in fact very talented at playing a certain kind of character, and that is the unlikeable rich person with problems the rest of us can't identify with.

I've mentioned this already, but it bears repeating after four days of watching her.  I've seen nearly a week of Julia Roberts getting dumped, dumped on, and going through the wringer, and I still haven't been able to muster a shred of sympathy for the characters she plays, because she just brings so much unpleasantness to them.  And if I never again hear/see that wide open-mouthed guffaw that she somehow brings into every movie, it'll be too soon.

Anyway, Eat Pray Love is adapted from the very successful, Oprah-approved memoir of the same name, about a woman who decides one day that she doesn't love her husband anymore and divorces him even though he's willing to fight for their marriage and make changes to keep her.  Then she cons her publisher into paying her an advance so she can spend a year travelling the world and "finding herself."

EAT
She begins her journey in Italy, where she wants to discover the pleasure of nourishing her body.  And at last, I stand corrected - I can now identify with a Julia Roberts character.  One time, when I was staying with a friend in NYC, I went on a World Eating Tour.  I walked down a street, and every time I passed a shop that sold a different ethnic cuisine I stopped and ate something.  Good times.  *burp*  There's this thing she does, and I hesitate even to point it out, because it's exactly the kind of thing that makes my wife say I analyze these things too much.  Each time she's about to eat something, she furtively casts her eyes left and right very quickly, as though to see whether anybody is watching, and then smiles her private little smile and takes another bite.  In fact, the smile is a near constant while she's in Italy.  It's not a smile of actual happiness.  It's the smile of an above-it-all observer, who treats the people she's seeing as though they are her own personal anthropology experiment.

PRAY
Next stop, India, so that she can discover the spiritual life and nourish her soul.  An admirable goal, to be sure.  I'm not passing judgment on any faith, but I do find it interesting that every time bourgie white people in the movies are seeking spiritual enlightenment, they find it by turning to Eastern religions.  Again, nothing wrong with it, but part of me wonders if the people of India don't ever reach a point where they're like, "Great, another busload of people who are going to treat us like curiosities..."

She enrolls in an ashram and begins her course of spiritual study.  At the ashram, as in Italy, we see that people just can't wait to befriend and spill their guts to her.  One guy, Richard from Texas, stands out because he is one of the most rare of screen creatures - the Manic Pixie Dream Guy.  Much like MPDGirls, he is the kind of character who would not exist in real life, but shows up for the sole purpose of spurring the main character along in her quest.  He gives her the nickname Groceries, because she likes to eat or something, so it takes a whole lot of groceries to feed her.  See what he did there?  She does not return the favor by nicknaming him Annoying-Ass Buttinsky, though she really should have.

LOVE
The last part of her journey is to Bali, where she studies how to find inner balance with a traditional medicine man.  Well, she starts to, anyway.  Then she meets a charming Brazilian man who she falls in love with, and totally neglects her training to lead him on for a while.  Then she decides that she doesn't need a man to find her balance.  But then she decides that she really does, so the movie ends with her and her new guy riding into the sunset together.

A lot of people have credited the book that this movie was adapted from with changing their lives.  If so, that's great!  I... have some problems.  Maybe the story reads differently in the book, but the character Roberts plays in the movie never seems to get past a very surface-level commitment to the people she has journeyed to be with.  She's not there to do anything other than pick and choose the parts of her host's culture that suit her need for validation.  She's a cultural dilettante who thinks she's become deeper along the way because she learned some new platitudes to spout.
RATING - Some pretty scenery earns this one more point than I would have otherwise given it.  Two gaping maws out of five.

LESSON - If you are a self-centered navel-gazer, all the travels in the world won't change your nature.

4 comments:

metallikyle said...

I visited Dallas in December and was lucky enough to catch this movie BOTH WAYS on the flight. Woohoo. So it is accurate to see that I've seen Eat, Pray, Love. However, I would not say that I've watched it.

I actually did plug in my headphones the second time because I had noted the early divorce scenes and wanted to see them. And they were actually quite good. It is crushing to watch her husband, though I think you're supposed to view him as the cage keeping this songbird down. I thought of him as flawed individual who nonetheless was willing to change and put in the work necessary to heal a hurting marriage (hence "Till death do us part").

I unplugged shortly after she arrived in Italy. And your review pretty much just reinforced what I already believed about the movie anyway.

I tell you what, Project Valentine is working out gangbusters for me. With PHorror I kept thinking, "Man I wish I had time to watch that movie", over and over. But with PV, I'm like, "I sure am glad I never saw that movie!"

Thanks, Danny!

Danny said...

I think that the cause of her character was not at all helped by the fact that I actually find Billy Crudup to be a very good actor, and one who is more than capable of making me feel sympathy for him. So, even though you're right and we're supposed to feel that he's the weight holding her back, I felt instead that she treated him with needless cruelty.

I'm glad to be watching them so you don't have to. It's funny, I got a good, consistent response on Project Horror, but mostly from you, Will, and my friend Eric. I've had far more comments on my Project Valentine entries by a long shot!

Ruthie said...

Danny, I read this book a few years ago and then I saw this movie last year. I loved the book at the time and I HATED the movie. Julia Roberts is a horrible choice to play Elizabeth Gilbert as her personality is way too big for the britches of this part and her annoying laugh doesn't help. I don't know how I would feel about the book now, but I agree with your review of the movie. Although Elizabeth Gilbert does fit the role of "the unlikeable rich person with problems the rest of us can't identify with," she also strikes some cords in me personally. I am glad that you don't have to watch any more Julia Roberts now.

Will Meekin said...

Truly a movie for our times: "Eat, Pray, Self-Love." A review I read of the book mentioned that the husband, despite the author's one-sided telling, is actually sympathetic and you spend the rest of the book kind of hating the narrator.

Although, it's a bit of genius casting to slot Crudup in the husband role, considering he did nearly the same cut and run to a pregnant Mary-Louise Parker a couple years ago. Ooh, meta.

Wm.

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