Director – Ryan Murphy
Starring – Julia Roberts, Billy Crudup, James Franco, Richard Jenkins, Javier Bardem, Viola Davis, Christine Hakim
Screenplay by – Ryan Murphy, Jennifer Salt based on the story by Elisabeth Gilbert
There are many times in the midst of watching Eat Pray Love that I feel myself wanting to stop writing. Such is the obsession with words and describing things, how one feels about things, how one feels, that it feels amazing that Liz Gilbert (Roberts) has enough money for a cab, much less a trip around the world to find herself. But therein lies the rub. She didn’t pay for the trip. The publisher did. As a result, the movie feels more like Real World Rome, Pautadi and Bali.
There is lots of speaking in front of crowds at the start of the movie, lots of labored explanations of the trappings and mechanisms of life, and how she was not forced into her decisions, but nonetheless essentially grew bored with them and walked away. In her wake, two men who have no real idea what it was like to be with her, because she is vacant, and just a reflection of what they were looking for. Or something like that.
After meeting someone who looks like Yoda, she takes his meanderings for advice, and goes home, gets bored with her husband, starts a divorce, starts an affair, stays bored, ponders her personal Yoda some more, and then convinces a publisher to finance a trip to the 3 afore-mentioned parts of the world and takes off.
Liz has a friend, Delia, who is happily married, with a child. She tells Liz that “…having children is kind of like having a tattoo on your forehead. You kind of have to be committed.” Being a child, however…
Delia tries to play Liz’ Devil’s Advocate for a time, but gives it up about the time she picks Liz up off of her front steps, where
she waits David (Franco), dejectedly, to leave for the airport. “Go, go, go” Liz says to Delia, as if she is trying to convince herself to leave for real. I thought the bonus check would have taken care of that.
As she gets to the airport, Delia finally tells Liz that the real reason she tried to keep her from going was, despite the fact that she loves her man, her baby and her job, she wishes she could go to. This is supposed to be an admission that Liz is making the right choice. In truth, though, it just reveals that everyone wants to take a trip free of charge, and responsibility. Well, there is that draft she promised the publisher.
So, on to Italy. She learns to eat there, and speak Italian. No mention of Christianity, even though she is in the birthplace of the Roman Catholic Church. Could this be a coincidence? Of course not. Italy is for eating, to Liz Gilbert’s understanding, and her last boyfriend was really into the idea of an ashram, so that seems like a good place to start her spirituality phase.
In India, she spends a lot of time cleaning, meditating and being angry. The anger is brought on by a Texan who is there for the same reason she is. The difference is that he has been there a few weeks longer. This allows for him to give her a cute nickname (Groceries, a carryover of her eating habits acquired in Rome), tell her to forgive herself, and tell her the big secret of his life. Yes, he was a drunkard once. Almost hit his kid with a car. Wife left him. He misses his kid. The time meditating about this, forgiving himself, did not seem to have an effect when it came time to draw out this secret pain. Oh well, once you tell your story, it must be time to move on. About a week after that, she is giving tours to the new recruits. Move on, indeed. The big lesson she learns here:
“God dwells within you, as you.”
Onto Indonesia, to visit Yoda. He barely remembers Liz, until she whips out proof. Then he is all toothless smiles and wisdom. She learns that he is between 64 and 101, and there to act as a salve as she wanders around town, helping a woman find their way out of marriages on their kid’s advice and pondering her next affair. It is almost a handsome, young stud, but she’s been there, done that 15 years ago and earlier in the last year. Better she fell for a Brazilian business man Felipe (Bardem), who is very romantic, divorced and devoted to his grown kids. One of them is so centered, once he spends the day with Liz and Felipe, asks his father if he has slept with her. When father protests, the son reels off this typically vapid line:
“Dad, it’s been ten years. It’s time.”
If one of my kids ever says that to me, I will slap the hell out of…myself, because I helped to raise the child to be an idiot.
Things go well with Mr. Big-er, I mean Felipe, and she naturally puts an end to it because of some need for balance and then, after saying goodbye to Yoda, changes her mind with some even more convoluted logic:
“In the end, I’ve come to believe in something I call “The Physics of the Quest.” A force in nature governed by laws as real as
the laws of gravity. The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you’re brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting, which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments, and set out on a truth-seeking journey, either externally or internally, and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher and if you are prepared, most of all, to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you.”
So, with that speech, they commit. I will take the under on that union.
To speak of the performers, they all do what they are supposed to do. This film, I think, accomplishes what it sets out to do, if what it wanted to do is excuse the act of being selfish. A lot of people identify with this “quest” but have little money to go about it. Nero had plenty of money to ponder his quests, as did Caligula. They, like Liz, are the living embodiment of Oprah’s dream of self-discovery. To be always searching, though, is to never commit. It kind of makes you an asshole. Oprah never said that in her book of the month description though.
The book was a huge hit, and the movie was a moderate success in the U.S. and a huge hit worldwide. The need to excuse not committing is vast. In the end, I still feel like writing. If for nothing else than to prove that you can love words and act out of true love – putting others before yourself – as well.
(* out of *****)